Tuesday, November 04, 2003

TERCE

Oh, dear. What have I wrought ?



TERCE: THE HOUR OF WORK


...love and work... S. Freud
...ora et labora... St Benedict


The Trappists want to feed us. Cheese wheels, jam,
fruitcakes infused with bourbon, bourbon fudge,
and even beer. “Eat, drink !” their brochures bid.
We see ourselves reflected in their eyes,
cartoons of appetite. They want to lead
us to temptation, certain that we’ll find
our way there anyway: why not cash in ?

But when the Trappists eat it’s by the Rule
of frugal Benedictine rations -- two
cooked dishes at the sixth and ninth hour, one
scant pound of bread per monk per day, no flesh
of quadrupeds except in illness, wine,
a half glass tops, it raises HDL
and abstinence, though noble -- well, you know.

They live for decades. Then, eternally,
impeccable from years of work and prayer.
We love and work our way to early graves,
while hoping for forgiveness, unction, grace,
or, if not those, at least a premium
black walnut deep-lid casket, Trappist-made,
ordered pre-need. The cross is optional.







Transparency

The maples have dumped their leaves this week; the brown crabgrass of the backyard's hidden under a layer of yellow leaves and the kitchen window, without the partial screen of leaves, looks directly at the back porch and into the kitchen of the neighbor's house.

C's wood sculpture hangs from the top of their porch: a spiral sunburst on the left, rays spreading right, in an oblong frame, all in oddly dark red green and blue. The neighbor is a tall, pleasant man, with whom I've had two substantive conversations in our whole six years here. He initiated them both.

In the first, he asked whether we'd been satisfied with the yard work done by someone we'd hired after seeing them work on his yard. In the second he asked permission to trim some of the branches of our unruly Norway spruce that overhung his driveway, and said that his wife was quite ill.

I gaze out through C's dark sun and feel a heavy sadness.

Last July I heard singing from his house, hymns; I couldn't make out all the words, but was sure I heard "fire fall," obviously a pentecostal image. I was in the midst of writing a poem based on a snippet of conversation I'd overheard at the Fourth of July fireworks. The poem became a pentecostal poem.


JULY 4th PENTECOST

“Where’s the finale, Daddy ?” lisps the child.

“Finale means the end,” the man replies,
didactic, fatherly, “but there’s lots more
to come yet, son. Don’t worry. Lots, lots more.
Of course you’re right -- the grand finale’s grand,

grand lights, grand sound, but, still, a long way off.
Don’t worry, boy. There’s plenty left (a loud
report drowns out the shaky voice) I’d say,
at least fifteen or twenty minutes -- look !”

He points to something whistling through the dark,
and braces for the flash and blast. The sky
blooms with red flame round as a giant moon.
The fire fall whets his tongue. Half-drunk, he cries,

“Wasn’t that splendid, love ?” The wind rises.
Smoke billows overhead. “Thus we transit
the glorious mundane to the last days,
the grand finale and what lies beyond !”

The child covers his ears, presses his face
into his father’s thigh. Muscle and hair
repel the little cheek. “And so much more
has yet to come !” exults the father.

“I want go home see Mommy,” sobs the child.




Monday, November 03, 2003

Hermit (11.99)

ORATIO

... a thousand twangling instruments

I like to imagine an eremite
alone in his cell
wordless listening
supremely irrelevant
a crystal of the purest patience

while all night my radio
To lie down
To lie with
To lie
pits white noise against nuit blanc.

On clear nights we could pull Canada
straight down from the aurora
a map mostly white
dark green for taiga
pale gray for tundra
Cap-chat, Chibougamau
mysterious names and distances
a Frenchman in a dark room

Gone are the days of imperfect reception
Gone are the screens of hissing snow
Gone is the bull’s-eye socket
that opened on unspangled darkness
Gone is the pure tone of void and emergency

One ancient trope, anaphora,
has survived rhyme and reason.
Infinitely antiphonal, it says
Give us this day and
Eat, drink
image and metaphor, its goons,
the self, its god,
goods, its gross grace.

Now the air twangles with testimonials
ravishing ! wondrous ! splendid ! --
until you’d think the tongue had been
clear-cut and strip-mined of superlatives
shucked to its dumb root
but still it screams down sheer ironsides
on the latest machine
spitting in today’s most phosphorescent chic !

From deep inside the basement’s
freshly poured neiges d’antan concrete
Fido’s bow-wow bow-wow bow-wow bow-wow
joins the cricket behind the boiler,
and the fizzling smoke-detector
in an new arrangement of
O iambic tabernacle O pentacle
while upstairs Old Uncle Gulliver
squirms in his AM FM truss.
Oh, how he likes it.

What burns on the MC’s index card,
fruit or beast ?
Which of a thousand thousand savors will suffice ?
What’s the consolation prize ?
What info-perdition lies
between words between stations ?
And when will the smoke clear
so that I might rescan
the spectrum of the terrible
for the vanishing slit between BC and AD ?

In the desert parabolas reread
the zodiac sign by sign by sign.
What strange music, half faith half math,

will loom our new ear ?


Rosa Rosa Rosa Rosa

I walked down Main St just after dark tonight to pick up some prescriptions at the pharmacy. The evening traffic seemed overly fast, dense and menacing, an impersonal collective phenomenon horridly devoid of care. A big encroaching mismanaged machine.

Oddly, among the wet, fallen leaves of the sidewalk, there was a decidual trail of family photographs and cards, leading to a broken-backed photo album splayed in the gutter. I was tempted to collect them, peruse them, interrogate them: how often does one find such treasure ? But my neck brace -- and I'll need three full months of it I learned today -- makes the ground a relatively inaccessible part of my world, so I let it all be.

DK dreamed our Cat Billy was telepathically reading him a book about dogs. What a fabulous dream. He said it was unpleasant, though. Not a nightmare, but one of those going-nowhere, annoyingly obscure dreams.

My father once dreamed of a row of boy scouts playing flutes.

(Alienist ! Where are you when I need you ?)

So I walked to the pharmacy, past that silly, pseudo-colonial hamburger restaurant whose name always escapes me -- Captain Something's Tavern -- and saw that their sign, with its series of red neon messages, was boasting of "thireteen televisions" and "nine satellites" and "trivia night" and "karaoke." In the parking lot of the pharmacy I watched a young woman get into her car, light up a cigarette, and turn her stereo up to window shattering level. The pharmacy was overbright with fluorescents. The first thing I saw was a display of at least three shelves worth of pink, shiny, grinning ceramic piggy banks.

Then I think I blacked out.

Just kidding.

How do people stand this life, I wondered on the way home, passing St Jude's weirdly protestant appearing white clapboard colonial church, gazing at the pretty statue on its lawn. I counterpoised the idea of a saint to the whizzing, loudmouthed, pig-pink, multi-channelled, meat eating world I was passing through. And, the idea of hermitage.

Then I thought of "Christianity" and it seemed as remote and unhelpful as the ranks of porcelain piggies in Walgreen's, except at its outermost limits of darkness, silence and unknowingness, where even Christ doesn't matter, doesn't figure. Transchristian realms. Christ is like the Zen trope of the finger pointing at the moon. He's the finger. He's what comes into speech, the Logos, a way of talking about the Unspeakable.

But as remote as it seemed, part of me wanted to go into the church, for the silence and simple acknowledgment-of-mystery that it represents.

Our new orange kitty might have another name. Gertrude has seemed just so ponderous. The kitty is cross eyed. I thought: rosicrucian, then I thought of Henry Miller's "The Rosy Crucifix" -- so maybe Rosy, or even Rosa after Andriessen's opera.

Billy's dream dog book was probably a god book, or a bible: that's why DK found the dream so annoying. Of course, free associating to someone else's dream is not exactly kosher, Sigmund.

Rosa rosa rosa rosa rosa !



Sunday, November 02, 2003

Nones: Outpatient

Only two of the divine hours remain unwritten in my series -- terce, nine AM, the start of the workday, and nones, midafternoon, the slump, the cluttered worldly dregs of time. I think an old poem, circa 2001, fits the 3 PM slot perfectly -- a poem I wrote after I saw a group of young men wearing work clothes hugging each other and wailing in the parking lot outside my window at the hospital. I later learned that a fellow worker had died on the job of some awful injury.

I've been too distracted of late to write. Maybe this fits.




NONES: OUTPATIENT


The sound, convulsive, musicless, disturbed
the clinic’s drone of paperwork and care,
and, summoned, we attended. It was woe
that froze our pens and stethoscopes midflight,
a woe so whorled and intimate it seemed
our ears were die-cast complements. And then

it stopped. We knew it would, of course. We knew
the chaplain would sweep down ex machinae ,
ex beeper, cell phone, elevator, stat,
and do whatever thing it is he does,
while we got back to doing all we could,
which isn’t much. And, all that afternoon,

amidst a crowded service of dull noise --
heat’s shuffle through coiled corridors, the cough
and spit of sleet and wind on the gray pane,
the hiss of the flickering overheads, the grave,
determined data rattling into banks --
my ears kept picking up that note of woe,

as perfectly attuned to its long wave
as a maternal ear to one child’s cry.
But then a keener sound crescendoed near,
two sirens bawling in and out of phase,
a lullaby, a ululation, then,
outside Emergency’s tokenless gate,

an ear-from-cosmos splitting unison.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

NPR, Buffy and Boffo, Stokey and Phelps

It was all so too too very I nearly puked into my DeSalvo Collar.

NPR did a piece on gay marriage yesterday. The second half was an ultra softball interview with a couple, he some prof of "ethics and moral philosophy," she some chick with an Oxford-related theology credential, who took the "con" side. These quasi-academic pieces of work had posited three sine qua nons of marriage -- complementarity, a public contract and procreativity -- which, QED, ruled out gay "marriage," although some of their best friends, etc etc.

One would think that such overly PhD'ed entities would not insist on such a literal and exclusive reading of complementarity: insert penis into vagina, tab A into slot B, and that's that. They evoked, of course, centuries of History and Tradition, and the Sanctity of the Institution of Marriage. They weren't quoting scripture, but Leviticus was lurking in the background. One could mentally morph the argument into one for slavery, white-supremacy, anti-semitism, the oppression of women. The ugly prejudice is prior. The rest is ugly rationalization, cloaked in college degrees, religion, tradition, history, you name it.

These are the insidious hate mongers, the insidious segregationists, the insidious separate-but-equalizers.

And again it's the old "we must respect and tolerate their opinion because it is their deeply held religious belief blah blah blah." Well fuck that shit, as the phrase goes. Bigotry is bigotry. I mean do we "respect" the fundamentalist Islamic "law" that provides for women to be stoned to death because it's a "deeply held belief" ? Hell, no.

I would imagine Profs Buffy and Boffo would be surprised -- and offended -- to be placed in the same category as Topeka's infamous Reverand Fred Phelps. "Moi?" they might cry, in unison, or perhaps, "Nous ?"

Yeah, vouse guys. I'm talkin' to you. High-end fundamentalists. Creepy homophobes in sheepskinned clothing.

I have a great Phelps story.

We were visiting DK's folks in Topeka, and decided to give their late, magnificent and placid poodle, Stokey, a joyride in the car, windows down, truly dog heaven. We tooled about for a while, the beast having the time of its life, until we came to a major intersection where a gaggle of Phelpses, adults and kids, were waving their virulent horrid signs. Stokey -- normally a placid, silent, amicable animal -- spotted them and suddenly began to bark like a dog possessed.

Good dog. Very, very good dog.

If he'd been there last night, I bet he'd have barked at the radio.




Friday, October 31, 2003

Down By The Riverside

It was the 1960's, maybe even the late 50's.

My father was coaching a folk trio called, I think, "The Riverside Boys," or if not that, at least a trio that sang "Down By The Riverside."

They also sang, or maybe he did, again around that time -- that being my early-ish childhood -- "Mack the Knife," and "Me And My Shadow," songs that left a darker, stronger imprint on my memory. As did the song that Sophie sang, "Show Me The Way To Go Home," a drinking song, but it seemed more about being lost. And, of course, my mother's "Bobby Shaftoe's Gone To Sea." Songs about night, menace, loneliness, separation, homelessness, lostness.

We watched a DVD last night, a 1960's German blues festival -- Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Otis Spann -- and I noted how many blues tunes mention going down to the river. Much 60's ambiance: narrow ties, shades, berets, and the whitest, strangest damned audience one could imagine, down to the mink stoles, and I don't mean John Waters.

I thought about my own riverside walks (yes, I'm gearing up to take one). Yesterday, walking, I thought about writing. How, as an amateur, I can write poems about, say, willow trees, even though it's possible that everything that can possibly be said about willow trees has long since been said. No pressure to push the envelope of the avant garde. Just the pure pleasure of taking the visible, perceptible, reflectable inner/outer world and making language and metaphor about it.

I noted how yellow the landscape is becoming. I remembered the tunnel between the hospital and the adjacent medical office building of the last limb of my residency (1992-4) -- how school kids had done a mural there, and how I was struck and delighted by the word "amarillo," yellow, that was part of it. And how the tunnel was gently curved, so that walking through part of it, one could, with no end visible, fantasize that it was endless. As I often did during those hellish years. Better walk forever along that gentle arc, along that gentle wall covered with kids' drawings, than be on call.

Speaking about putting willow trees in poems, I am reminded of a stipulation I once read in a journal's submission guidelines: no poems by housewives. What a bitchy, callow rule !

I bet that journal's full of first person free verse about being an angst-ridden, downtrodden artiste.

So I should walk, right ?

Right.



Thursday, October 30, 2003

That Hyphenated Chick

So I walked an hour in the sun: down to the river, the usual path. Vegetation's getting sparser. The knotweed's bare. The oak leaves, brown and leathery. Maples turning, some still green. The water brown, thick, fast after yesterday's rain. I sat on one of the riverside benches and a whole brace of geese and ducks approached, floating crosscurrent, probably avid for bread. Seeing I had none, they returned to the business of floating, dunking, preening.

I walked an hour, hoping the sun would kick in and good cheer would suffuse me. But it was like pouring ineffectual caffeine into deep fatigue. Plus my neck began to hurt some, and I had to stop to tighten the velcro on Albert's vice grip. There were the usual joggers and cyclists. Some smiled, provoking me to bleary thoughts: they are taking pity on the damaged old crone.

Then I began to sweat.

Maybe this injury has bolluxed me more than I have been willing to admit. It seems vaguely unreal. I think I harbored the thought, fueled by neuro's use of the word "ditzel" and ordering up of a bone scan, that maybe there wasn't even a fracture present.

(Denial ! That Kubler-Ross chick again, as "All That Jazz" calls her.)

Hey, I gave up on that Kubler-Ross chick when she published her book on HIV. I was in the midst of dealing with this awful disease in the mid 80's as the first cases began to appear in the prison system. I felt sad, angry, overwhelmed; it's hard enough to have a COLD as a prison inmate, never mind a fatal, frightening, new, stigmatizing disease. I remember grabbing her new book off the shelf in the bookstore, and turning eagerly to a section specifically about incarcerated HIV patients. I could not make it past her terrible, blanket vilification of all physicians working in prisons.

Bye bye love, hello loneliness.

Sometimes the simplest lines from simple songs say it best. Dead, we join the billions who have died before us. Dying, we all do alone. Even better:

Row row row your boat
gently down the stream
merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
life is but a dream








Miscellania. Reboot.

Our new kitty, orange and white, a little cross-eyed, and tentatively named Gertrude, sniffed at my coffee this morning -- and began to drink it. I knew we'd picked a winner.

Sunshine and better sleep make a wonderful compound.

Granted, it was better through the wonders of modern chemistry, but I'll take it over staring at the ceiling and catastrophizing. The Valium seemed to function like some sort of renewable ballast. I woke a lot, but sunk right back to sleep.

Today I'm going to take a walk. Maybe sit. Write ?

I have to try to scramble back onto the world. What do I mean by that ?

I could say "get back to my life," but, of course, I have never left my life. This is my life, this broken-necked, overly-bathrobe clad, valium-eating, collar-wearing, peevish, time-dithering, not-going-to-work life.

The illusion that I have left my life is the true departure. That's the purgatory I've been flirting with, the neither-here-nor-thereness that's getting me down. I AM here. HERE. Now. Nowhere else.

Wake up, PT.






Wednesday, October 29, 2003

ARK

ARK

With A Hey, Ho, The Wind and Tadeusz C.

Wild weather: my almost defunct 1999 Mother's Day ivy sailed off the verandah rail, and the white plastic chair upended and skittered halfway to the yard.

Bleary after last night's insomnia, I spent the morning being led deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of the Web, along some strands of an old fascination, the Araki Yasusada Hoax, led there by Joseph Duemer's link to hgpoetics which references an excellent Kent Johnson interview.

I have tracked down the genesis of my own "fictitious poets" obsession and my own personal "fictitious poet," Tadeusz, to December 1995, and my piece "THREE UNKNOWN POETS." This is clearly before I became aware of the Yasusada Hoax with American Poetry Review's deliciously peevish retraction in the Fall 1996 issue.

In the prior issue they'd showcased this avant garde and occidentophile Hiroshima survivor's poems and notebooks in a prestigious "Special Supplement." Upon learning that Yasusada himself was a fictional construction, the editors basically went ballistic, denounced the "art" they'd previously deemed worthy of a Special Supplement, and, later, one of them called the submission "criminal." A whole fascinating dialogue has ensued about the nature of authorship, about what determines the prevalent tastes and prejudices of the prestigious mainstream poetry journals. APR, with all those photos of tweedy poits and large-tressed poitesses, had sometimes seemed even to me, an amateur, a dilletante, to be slightly silly and pretentious. Viz. my poem, "Ark," a satire of its lumbering quarterly arrival.

What I can't recall is whether I discovered Ern Malley and the Spectrists, and Pessoa's heteronyms before or after the Yasusada affair. Could have been either way. I finished the long Tadeusz/Hester story in 1998, and my delight and energy in writing it was certainly fueled by the Yasusada controversy.

The piece I'll append below appeared in Salem State's Lit Mag, and a couple of the Tadeusz pieces appeared in the Exquisite Corpse before it went completely on line.


THREE UNKNOWN POETS

Tadeusz Czhgymcscz and The Blue Udder

Tadeusz Czhgymcscz (1903-1933) was the founding father and, so far as it can be determined, only member of the short-lived Eastern European avant-garde literary movement Der Blau Euter, or “The Blue Udder.” His most famous and widely anthologized poem, “Galompki” is said to epitomize the spirit of the movement, which, in the words of the critic Fraufenster, “...combined the eye of God and a stuffed cabbage in a disgusting, inedible smorgasbord of meaningless sound.”

Czhgymcscz died of scrofula in a small, private sanitarium outside of Kansas City, where he had lived in exile since 1932, after an unfortunate and highly publicized incident involving the Russian ambassador’s youngest daughter.

I will take the liberty here to append my own translation of “Golompki” with explanatory footnotes. My deepest appreciation goes my dear friend and mentor, Professor Emeritus Szynt Szyntcscz for his invaluable guidance.


Golompki

I hear the playing of the basset hounds
I hear the baying of the basset horns (1)
On my plate the blargh (2) coagulates
(untranslatable) and deviant
striations of (untranslatable) (3)

But certainly the Archbishop (4)
can be extracted from the pickle jar (5)
without a vszyscs. (6)

(1923?)

(1) Ah, the thankless task of the translator! In the original, these lines involve an obscure pun on the words “fluegelhorn” and “guinea pig”, which, in Czhgymcscz’ native tongue, share a common root. In the spirit of Czhgymcscz’ aesthetic I have chosen to render the pun rather than the meaning.

(2) A drink made of fermented alfalfa extract and goat’s brains indigenous to Czhgymcscz’ native village, often, according to biographers, served by Czhgymcscz’ mother on the occasion of his birthday. It is said to confer virility unto firstborn sons.

(3) This is the famous passage that caused the personal and aesthetic rift between Rilke and Czhgymcscz.

(4) Czhgymcscz is rumored to be the illigitimate son of the Archbishop of Brzscsz. Historical proof of this contention has eluded all three of his major biographers. In Czhgymcscz symbolology, however, the Archbishop invariably represents either the shadowy nether regions of the psyche, or the fine brown scum left on the bottom of the cow barn after the ritual November cleaning.

(5) In Czhgymcscz’ dialect, the words for pickle jar and drainpipe are identical -- another example of Czhgymcscz’ richly ironic wordplay.

(6) No english equivalent. A local eating utensil shaped like an octopus, thought to originate in the maritime provinces of Czhgymcscz’ native land.





Miss HH: Transcendentalist Cipher

But certainly even more unknown that the obscure but vaguely notorious Tadeusz Czhgymcscz is the American Transcendentalist Poetess Harriet Harriet, or, as she is affectionately known in scholarly circles, Miss HH.

She is thought to have traveled in the fringes of the group that included Emerson, the Alcotts and Thoreau, although the only reference to her in any of the extant primary sources is in a (probably forged) letter from Thoreau to the Tireless Loon Baking Co. in which, after bitterly complaining about the texture of the crust of a blueberry pie he had purchased, he makes an incomprehensible reference to “a double order of harriets” . In all fairness, the handwriting reflects the intensity of his wrath, and the phrase has also been deciphered as “a double order of cherry pies” by reputable, if intellectually plodding, scholars.

In any case, a slim volume of her work remains, self-published, entitled “Corn Chords,” which is, of course, both a pun on the name of the famous New England town from which she came, and a reference to her peculiar and ultimately fatal obsession with mastering the Cornhorn, a now extinct woodwind instrument related to the oboe and fashioned, as the name implies, out of corn cobs.

Although her somewhat anti-social persona has led some scholars to compare her to Emily Dickinson, the most cursory of glances at her oeuvre will unmask the folly of that comparison. I offer by way of example one of her lesser poems, “Chowder”

Chowder

Those blighted men are always eating chowder --
chowder chowder chowder chowder chowder !
I do not think they could eat it any louder
if instead of clams and fish it contained gunpowder!

So gentlemen I offer you my scorn.
And I will play my scorn upon my horn !
As I place my bleeding lips upon the corn
I wish to Brahma that I was never born !

This is typical of her poems, in that it consists of two quatrains with an aaaa and bbbb rhyme scheme, a relatively chaotic meter, and predictably indiscriminate use of exclamation points. Note the reference to “Brahma” that places her, in spirit if not in actuality, at the heart of the Transcendentalist movement.

Some scholars argue that this poem with its vehement chowder imagery suggests that she was an employee of the “Tireless Loon Baking Co.” which also was known to serve lunch. Others claim that it is a reference to her father’s passion for this seafood dish and his well-known execrable table manners (viz. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous Pastiche “On Mr. H’s Manners and the Overbowl.” )



Django Bass: Can’t Be Beat

No discussion of poetical unknowns would be complete without mention of our own favorite son of obscurity, Django Bass ! (1938-) He is often erroneously included in discussions of the “beat” poets because of the widespread critical misprision (see Bloom,1964) that his most famous poem “Care Wax” is an homage to Jack Kerouac, when in fact the most cursory of biographic researches quickly reveals this to be the name of the car wash at which he worked from 1958-1961. In fact, the same cursory research quickly reveals this to be Bass’ one and only poem, a slender oeuvre indeed, one for which the word-weary critic soon is quite grateful!


Care Wax

“Put that car up on the jack, Care Wax
the undercarriage,” he Howled.
“Then put a shine
on the road-
ster !”

“We’ll drive it
from Chicago to Gary !”
(snider and snider he grew).
“Through ALL the boroughs!”
“Of Course -- oh !”

The runaway car --
should he shoot her ?
Nah, rope ‘er.

(1959)


In a rare interview given in his Portland Maine dry cleaning establishment in 1972, Bass reiterated his insistence that “Care Wax” was uninfluenced by the beat movement.

“Beets ? Never liked ‘em much. Stains are a bitch to get out, too. ‘Specially from polyester. Need a whole jug of carbon tet to get them suckers out! ”

Bass was voted “The poet least likely to suffer from the anxiety of influence” by the MLA in 1983.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

More Hypersplenism

Despite being deeply moved this morning by Merton's poems "O Sweet Irrational Worship," and "Elegy for the Monastery Barn," and the passages from "Conjectures" about the point vierge, I finished my poem "Prime" as follows:



PRIME

How the valley awakes.
T. Merton

The Trappists have been up for hours. I wake.
The fell of day drowns out the point vierge
again: the digital blares news, my brain
takes up where it left off -- commit, omit.
The world’s anathema. I cannot sit
zazen or still. My vallombrosa’s rain
is acid, black, and heaven’s concierge
has stamped my stub stigmata red: MISTAKE.









Monday, October 27, 2003

Thermodynamics

I took a course in thermodynamics in college. This fact never ceases to astound me. I believe I passed it. Thinking of the course produces in me a vague frisson of confusion and displeasure. I can picture the classroom. The amount of information I have retained from it is practically nil. I recall one word. I do not remember what the word means. The word is "hysteresis." And when I look it up today I find that it pertains to magnetism, certainly not a thermodynamic topic, or, if so, so abstrusely linked that, absent repeating the course, I have no hope of retrieving it.

So, officially, I remember nothing. What I know about entropy (the second of Thermodynamics' "Laws," right ?) is what any educated liberal arts type might know: the tendency of a system to move toward maximum disorder. Including my memory.

It's possible that there is some data culled from "thermodynamics" that lurks silently integrated within something else I "know" or "understand."

But, mainly, it's a hole. A shadowy classroom. A misremembered word. An impressive hole.

I was thinking of entropy last night, since the structure of my sleep -- under the accumulated weight of wearing the collar, taking then stopping valium, and relative inactivity -- has decided to attain maximum disorder. This is the first year I can remember when I greeted the prospect of "gaining an hour" of supposed sleep with dread. My computer, even more bolluxed than me, set itself back two hours.

I had been thinking of entropy all day. A walking tour of the downstairs had filled my inner neat freak with horror. The mail table: heaped, overflowing. The frontroom: newspapers on the floor and a dismantled bicycle. The den: dead flowers, toppling stacks of magazines, shoes, socks, detritus from the kitties' cardboard catnip scratching box. The living room: the site of DK's abandoned late-summer rearrange-the CDs-etc. project, sprawled like a patient on the operating table, wide open, tubes and drains in place, abandoned by the doctor. Beginning to rot. The kitchen table: vanished under its mounds of papers and books. Two auxiliary piles in the corner on the floor, rising to the chin of our kitchen penguin. Two or three pairs of shoes. Some socks. Crumbs. The "head of the cellar stairs" pile growing larger each day.

And the back stairs rug, unvacuumed, what, five or six weeks, turns furry. Mackled with kitty litter.

The system needs a definate input of energy. And mine has been ebbing toward absolute zero. Abulia. Catatonia.

Lying there last night, I realized my Aspen Collar had undergone a further Kafkaesque metamorphosis -- from a pair of Albert DeSalvo Boston-strangling hands to a Gregor Samsa-like carapace, encasing and isolating my whole being in its plastic shell. Nolo me tangere.

"AS I awoke one morning from uneasy dreams I found myself transformed in my bed into a gigantic insect. I was lying on my hard, as it were armor-plated, neck..."

And again, my daily 10:30 AM realization: I am still in my bathrobe.

Must get a grip, eh ? Good project for the day.

Well, life does go on. We had to buy a car. We did. We will pick it up today. I don't want it. The thought repells me.

We adopted a kitten. Orange and white. A six months old girl kitty, a stray. She's getting neutered today at Animal Rescue. Very sweet kitty. Affectionate. Crawled into my lap at the shelter and grubbed up scratch. I feel surprisingly indifferent.

DK wants a chair. To replace the awful one. We looked at chairs. Since we last bought a chair over a decade ago chairs have tripled in size. Sitting in them, one resembles that Lily Tomlin character, the little girl always depicted sitting on a huge chair.

These things are MONSTERS. They come with ottomans (ottomen?) the size of the Ottoman Empire. They cost a FORTUNE.

Why have chairs so engrossed ?

They are big enough for a 6-700 pound person. Literally.

Are we looking at new norms-to-come on body weight charts and in furniture to parallel, for example, the supersized vats of cola and hogsheads of popcorn sold at the movies ?

Days like this I think I must have two or three accessory spleens.





Friday, October 24, 2003

Sext

Mirabile dictu, I got some work done today. One of the "little hours," high noon, sext. There's a wonderful website that's about the flora and fauna of the Charles River area. I found it yesterday, and spent a long time looking through its lovely photos.



SEXT, FRIDAY, THE RIVERWALK

October noon. The sun can barely clear
the phone pole’s cross before it nods and sinks.
The town’s crewcut the pathside down to lawn
up to the tangled shrubs, and vine-choked trees
that line the riverbank, good husbandry,
but I miss August’s crazy underbrush.

All gone, the horseweed, thistle, tansy, vetch,
burdock and primrose. A few spared grasses bend,
still knuckled with their seeds. Close-up, back-lit,
they seem phalanges, porous, much like mine,
age-bleached and fragile. Asters -- purple, white --
froth at the foot of headless phragmites,
pure lateness, last to flower, last to fade.

And, suddenly, I buckle like a stalk
too frail to stand before such radiance.
I’m stripped of seedhead, godhead, dry, alone,
pure incarnation, compost, on my knees
beside the bike path, asking nothing more
from high noon’s little hour than darkness. Please.








Thursday, October 23, 2003

Of All The Cabs In All The Cities...

I once wrote a poem referring to a state institution that was "tucked" into "the landscape of the fucked." I liked the hard, vulgar rhyme. The institution was a local state school for the retarded where experiments were done in the 1950's that involved serving radioactive breakfast cereal to the residents. The landscape is a swath of land that includes this school, a state mental hospital, since closed, and, of course, at the high end of the spectrum of the fucked, McLeans.

Today I felt I had entered a similar zone: one of Boston's gargantuan teaching hospitals where my CT scan, bone scan and neck xrays were scheduled today.

It was snowing, it was cold, and it was rush hour. My cab driver seemed anxious. I was anxious. The hospital was teeming with the afflicted. The rhyme of my poem occurred to me. Oxygen tanks, casts, wheelchairs, beds, worried faces, lost expressions, limps, canes: and me among them, one of them, human, afflicted, mortal, frightened. Not the powerful doctor, no. The suffering patient. A card carrying denizen of the landscape of the fucked. Golgotha. Welcome to incarnation.

My tests went fine: folks were prompt, courteous, helpful. And, for the bone scan, I got to lie on my back for a full 45 minutes without the Aspen AKA Albert DeSalvo Collar that I've been wearing for a month. That was bliss. Heaven. I walked a few blocks and had lunch at a little soup joint I'd seen dozens of times from the MBTA. They had vegan soup. It was delicious.

Then I went for my neurosurgery appointment.

The receptionist peered up at me.

"Oh, your appointment was canceled," she announced.

I grew peevish and asked, calmly but sarcastically, mightn't it have made sense to inform me of this fact ? To, say, call me ? I pointed out that I've been out of work for a month, enduring the DeSalvo Collar for a month, had just had a morning's worth of tests and might just begin to cry.

At that, she went to fetch some Ubersecretary from the depths of the office. A fellow patient looked me in the eye with an expression that clearly said: isn't that always the way !

Now if it had been that the doc was called away for emergency surgery -- no problem ! But they didn't say that. It simply sounded like a schedule change that they simply hadn't told me about.

Ubersec arrived, apologizing, but not explaining. Rescheduled the appointement for 11/3. Too deflated and discouraged to lobby for anything sooner, or to even think of asking to have the doc call me with the xray reports, or to insist that they take the MRI I'd obtained from the other hospital for him and have him read it, I slunk away.

And summoned a cab.

It came promptly, and an extremely cheerful driver greeted me effusively in French: ca va bien au'jourd'hui ? I replied as best I could in French, and was immediately -- embraced and buoyed are the only words I can think of -- in and by his warmth and good cheer. As we drove and conversed, and he discussed his large family and his kids, I suddenly realized that he was the very same cab driver who ferried me home at dawn from the Grossly Inconvenient Community Hospital On The Outskirts Of Nowhere (vide infra, Oct 21, "Audite") at the end of my 24 hours of medical hell last May !

"Do you ever drive in the early morning ?" I asked.

"Oh, yes," he replied. "I begin at two AM !"

"And did you pick me up last spring at GICHOTOON ER -- remember, it was dawn, and the inside door panel of the cab came loose !"

"Yes, yes !" he cried, remembering perfectly well. Both of us were amazed at the serendipity and strangeness of our reunion. It's a big city with lots of cabs, after all.

I told him how, at the end of my terrible 24 hours last spring, he had so immensely cheered me up -- and here he was again, doing the same thing !

Doctor Fritz, my guardian angel, thank you and God Bless.












Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Toast. Apples.

Why "Paula's House of Toast" ?

It's DK's phrase, his ironic name for my mythic toast restaurant. It reminds me, however, of a patient from my first internship way back when, 1977 probably. Back in the day, back when titans trod the earth.

I admitted some poor, elderly woman who'd been home subsisting on ice-cream cones sans ice cream for months and months. The tasteless, paper-and-air waffle kind, too: not tasty sugar cones. I wish I could remember what specific deficiency she'd been admitted with, but I can only remember being profoundly impressed by her diet of empty ice cream cones. What a strange asceticism !

We all have our secret fetishes. Some sexual, some oral.

I lived for months, once, in college, on apples and Special K. No milk.

The apples remind me of a book that impressed me in med school, in the days when I wanted to become a psychoanalyst. It was by a Swiss analyst, a woman; it was about schizophrenia, and her curing a female patient of it by feeding her apple slices, some kind of silly oral regression therapy.

That, in turn, takes me slightly farther back to the apple farm I stopped at during my first weeks at med school on my impulsive drive home to announce to my parents I was quitting medical school. I remember three green apples in my blue VW beetle. Sour apples. I remember my parents' horror. Quitting ? I'd barely begun ! Was I nuts ? Must be !

So they hauled me to a shrink. That very night, I think. Who in turn eventually referred me to The Alienist, who became apple of my eye for all those couchy years.

Still, I wonder. If they'd let me quit...

Those three green apples mark a real waystation in my life. They were witness to my remaining in medical school, my developing a transference-fueled wish to become a psychoanalyst, my ill-advised flight to the University of Chicago and a few miserable months of a psychiatry residency that, this time, I managed to actually quit, my quite accidental and unconsidered return to an internal medicine residency, my marriage to PMS, my accidental pregnancy, my long hiatus from the pregnancy-interrupted residency doing general practice in state prisons, divorce, remarriage, and, finally, the return to complete residency and become board certified: at the same teaching hospital where Alienist was still in the department of psychiatry. That's a twenty year circle.

I could say crop circle, but that's another story.

How do you like them apples ?

What I loved about psychoanalysis was how it honored language and image and metaphor. Arieti's book on schizophrenic language blew me away. A more recent book of a less academic genre but on the same topic is Lauren Slater's "Welcome to My Country." She's a therapist and wonderful writer who has, herself, struggled with bipolar illness. In this book she "reads" the verbal productions of the most difficult patients with loving attention, and deep, empathic understanding.

She's the sort of reader that all poets and all patients crave.









Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Audite

I love telling this story. That I love telling it probably bespeaks a terrible character flaw. The story has two titles. One is "How To Diagnose Adult Rickets Colonoscopically." The other is, "Lose Hope, Patients. Doctors Don't Even Listen To Patients Who Are Doctors." The other, less savage title, could be the first word from St Benedict's Rule: "Audite." Listen.

So, as we all know, one ingests a "prep" prior to the unmentionable colon intubation one earns as a rite of passage upon turning 50. To clean out the aforementioned organ. So that it may be scrutinized. Our HMO uses the nasty little prep with a gazillion millimoles of sodium phosphate. Fleet's Phosphosoda, citrus flavored. Like four ounces of bad lime kool aid laced with eighteen heaping tablespoons of table salt. So, good patient that I am, I choked it down.

Next morning I'm lying there in the GI suite of Upscale Suburb Community Hospital waiting (and waiting and waiting and waiting) for the procedure to begin, parched as hell, my teeth are vibrating (really !), there's a bizzarro twitch at the base of my right thumb, but I figured, what the hell, maybe I'm a little dehydrated.

Turns out the doc who was supposed to do my scope, some guy I'd never even met (since colonsocopies occur in a wierd never-neverland annex to the doctor-patient relationship, an impersonal assembly line of specialists and orifices) was off somewhere in New Hampshire giving a lecture. (OOPS ! SNAFU ! FUBAR !) But, fear not, announced the harried nurse who finally delivered this message, the "awesome" (her word) "chief of GI" had consented to do all the mis-scheduled procedures if that was OK with me.

Needless to say it was fine w/ me. Did not relish another quaff of the old Phospho Soda. No blushful hippocrene, that.

So the nurse slapped on a tourniquet to start an IV and my hand promptly curled up into a crampy, spastic little ball. This, as any medical student knows, is the classic, tourniquet-induced "carpal spasm," AKA Trousseau's sign, indicating either low blood calcium or blood rendered overly alkaline by hyperventilation.

Now I do not DO hyperventilation. EVER. I am a model of perfect GRAVITAS. The upper lip ? She is stiff.

Plus, as any medical student knows, PHOSPHATE (as in Fleet's PHOSPHO soda) BINDS IONIC CALCIUM, causing it to precipitate OUT of the bloodstream.

So I announced to the nurse, gingerly, trying not to do the arrogant I-know-best-I'm-a-physician schtick, that I'm an internist and explained all of the above to her and I was concerned my serum calcium might be low. She looked confused, mumbled something and scuttled off. In addition to Trousseau's sign, a very low calcium can cause seizures, arrhythmias and cause one's larynx to spazz up as well. Preventing air from entering one's body. So I was a bit, oh, worried. Silly me.

Then Nurse #2 came in and took my blood pressure in the other arm. Again, tourniquet; again Trousseau's sign in the other hand. Again, I pointed this out, offered physiologic explanation, complete with my credentials as an INTERNIST. "Awww," she said, hooking me up to the cardiac monitor, "you just need a nice HAND MASSAGE." And proceeded to knead my spastic palm. (It did feel rather good.)

Finally, in swanned the "awesome" chief of GI, introducing himself, and offering his credentials as the AWOL GI guy's "boss." I figured I'd go for broke. YET AGAIN, I proffered MY medical credentials. YET AGAIN, I reiterated the Trousseau's sign, phosphate prep, possible low calcium speech, acknowledging that hyperventilation can cause carpal spasm, but noting I was not hyperventilating, and this time I even threw in the twitching -- fasciculating, as we docs like to say -- thumb.

He peered down at me. "Ah yes, fasciculations," he intoned, gravely. "Well, you should certainly discuss those with your doctor. I get them too, sometimes." (I caught his subtext. Fasciculations are the first sign of ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease, but everyone gets benign twitches from time to time.) "And," he continued,"Your potassium is probably a little low. But the cardiac monitor looks fine." (Yes, asshole, I'm not flatlining yet, and low potassium doesn't cause Trousseau's sign !) He continued to peer down his awesome nose at me, and concluded, " You're probably just blowing off a little carbon dioxide."

Blowing off a little carbon dioxide ? Blowing off ? A Little carbon dioxide ?

In otherwords: YOU'RE HYPERVENTILATING, YOU HYSTERICAL WOMAN. ROLL OVER AND SHUT UP, I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THIS !

(Do you think that if I had been a MALE internist he might have ordered a stat serum calcium level ?)

By the time I truly woke from my demerol and benzodiazepine induced stupor (I don't even remember getting home) at about six that evening, my whole body was doing the carpal spasm thing even without the tourniquets.

So I called my HMO.

I explained everything to a nurse. She connected me to some physician's assistant doing urgent care. I went through the whole thing AGAIN, this time venturing that maybe the standard dose of the prep was too much phosphate for a 105 pound woman. "No, no," she interrupted, peevishly, "we give the same dose to everyone," and continued to explain that they were really extremely busy, there was nothing they could do for me tonight, if I REALLY wanted to (as if it were a frivolous option only the most flagrant of hypochondriacs would choose) I could go to an ER. And if I chose that option I had to go to Grossly Inconvenient Community Hospital On The Outskirts Of Nowhere, which I shall henceforth call, acronymically, GICHOTOON. Would she call them and apprise them of my arrival ? Couldn't possibly. Too busy.

So off we schlepped to the GICHOTOON ER. By the time we got there it was 7 pm and I could barely hold and/or let go of the pen they gave me to sign in with. I told the story yet again to an uninterested, suspicious and harried looking triage nurse, she drew a few tubes of blood to send off to the lab, and consigned -- condemned -- me to the (Hell That Is Known As The GICHOTOON) ER waiting room. Where there are TWO TELEVISIONS on full blast, set to two different stations. Where, apparantly, one sits and awaits the arrival of the grim reaper and his tumbril, while being driven clinically insane by sit com laugh tracks, loud potato chip advertisements, and bad Tom Hanks movie sound tracks.

Soon, in addition to the muscle spasms, I began to feel like long wisps of hair were flagellating my cheeks. They weren't. And that I was wearing a pair of electric gloves. I wasn't.

At 11 PM I announced I would rather die than wait another moment in that hell, and a dubious but cowed DK, after the receptionist informed him she could not possibly even consider trying to obtain even an estimate of how much longer it would take before I could be seen, drove me home. It was not one of my better moments. I "eloped," as we docs like to say, from the ER. Thus placing me for eternity in the category "nutjob patient."

Once home we found, on the answering machine, an alarmed message from an ER doc, Dr X, "who'd just come on shift" and been handed my lab reports. He said I'd better get my butt back to the ER because my blood was, well, FUBAR.

Well, duh.

Of COURSE my calcium was low. I'd only been telling them that ALL FUCKING DAY ! (My potassium was in the basement, too, but my calcium was in the sub sub basement.)

So DK ferried (as in Styx) me back to the ER where young (extremely handsome and very patient) Dr X brought my lab tests and body back into the not-quite-right-but-almost-compatible-with-life range. They'd apparantly been having a night from Hell. I felt sorry for them. I felt sorry for me.

And took a taxi home at dawn. Later phoned up my internist who was horrified and made it a point to phone up Awesome GI Chief to give him the rest of the story, as it were. She ordered repeat labs. I had 'em. Calcium improving. But LOW phosphate. Huh ? Low ? I looked in Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine and had an OMiGod moment. What causes low calcium and a low phosphate ? Of course.

Vitamin D deficiency.

(Am 2 year vegan, 10 year non-milk drinking vegetarian who gets little or no sunshine. Your basic troglodyte.)

Phoned up internist again. Asked her to add on a vit D level. It came back, well, zero. Compensatory hormone, PTH, which basically chews up bones, valiantly attempting to restore blood calcium to normal, was through the roof. Bones ? Translucent. Endocrinologist ? Deeply impressed.

Long dark winter of odd and semi-crippling hip, foot and rib pains ? Resolved with return of the sun and massive doses of D and Calcium.

Results of colonoscopy ? Hemorrhoid.

Apology from Chief Awesome ? None.

Mention of any of my Three Calcium Speeches in Upscale Suburb Community Hospital Medical Record ? None.

Bill For Co-Pay From The Hell That's Known As GITCHOTOON ER ? You bethcha.

Audite. It's good to remember that exhortation.




Monday, October 20, 2003

Vegan Sangha Which

I've been thinking about -isms today. About subscribing to a body of belief; signing on, as it were, to a club that allows one to announce I am a(n) .... -ist. Complete with lapel pin, handshake, password, lawn ornament. I've always hankered for this sort of belonging. Me: the eternal outsider looking in, the poor little match girl. I do say to people, "I am a vegan," when the issue of what I will or won't eat arises, but I'm not even sure I am a dyed-in-the-synthetic-fleece "vegan."

Over ten years ago I decided not to eat animals as "a gesture of peace." This was the phrase I used in articulating the decision to myself. There may have been a vaguely Buddhist context or impetus. After that, I felt uneasy about wearing leather shoes, and about the bits of leather on my winter coat. Hypocritical.

Two or three years ago I learned that the factory farming methods that produce eggs and milk are as cruel as the ones that result in slaughter, so, to be consistent, finally, in my "gesture of peace," I eliminated these things, along with leather, wool and silk from items I eat and use.

For awhile I because obsessed with the micro-ingredient aspect of veganism: incredible numbers of chemicals used in food are animal-derived. The forest vanished; so, in fact did the trees -- I was down there with the chloroplasts and the xylem and phloem. I still buy vegetable-based bars of soap, but could never get used to vegan toothpaste, laundry soap or shampoo. And can't break my peppermint life-saver addiction. And, on rare occasion, I use non-dairy coffee creamer (which, of course, is chock full of dairy material) in coffee. So of course there's guilt. And rationalization. Maybe I'm a "reform vegan," not an orthodox one, etc etc.

There's a great line from the Simpsons -- a greenpeace type guy one-ups Lisa's vegetarianism by saying something like "I am a sixth degree vegan. I only eat things that don't cast a shadow."

Plus being a "vegan" seems like having a religion that's focused on food and animal rights. Culinary and political. It seems like one's metaphysics should involve something grander, and the respect for animals and the dietary observances should be corrollary. Or something. "I am a Vegan" feels like the center's in the wrong place. If I'm going to embrace an -ism, it should be the right one.

So I'm probably not technically a vegan. So what am I?

I was baptised Christian (Groveland Congregational Church, 1960, Reverand Donald Tatro !) and am a registered Democrat. Do those count ? I am a card carrying member of the AAA, a useful organization indeed, and our new cards just arrived today ! I used to think that I might want to take refuge in Buddha Dharma and Sangha, but never did.

I'm thinking of HNF, the card carrying schizophrenic I knew years ago, crazy but not un-insightful, and very smart. He looked at a policeman once and commented: The only thing that's holding that man's personality together is his uniform.

Some mornings, in the clinic, when I put on my white coat and stand outside of the door of the first patient of the day, it feels like he was talking about me.














Sunday, October 19, 2003

Beside Myself

In my dream I was standing beside myself on the edge of a cliff. My other self extended her hand toward me and invited me to jump. The cliff was sheer, and the ground beneath was trash-strewn. No, I replied, frightened, but she insisted. We held hands, my fear dissipated, and we jumped. That's it.

Where did the dream come from ?

Last night DK and I watched a snippet of the Steve Reich video "Hindenberg," his usual minimalist schtick, a chorus chanting "It was not a technological failure," over a film montage of the famous shots of the falling dirigible -- the egg shaped flying machine drifting down, exploding, the terrified crowds fleeing from it toward the camera.

I thought of the horrible, riveting raw film of the World Trade Center collapse, especially of the people jumping. Jumping hand in hand. There's an interesting essay by Tom Junod about one particular photo he calls "The Falling Man," a photo that has been accused of "turning tragedy into leering pornography." Junod considers it the "cenotaph" of this anonymous "Unknown Soldier," a document of honorable witness, not crude invasion.

There's an iconic photo from WWII that's engraved within my consciousness: the picture of a stark field, a woman clutching a child to her breast, and a Nazi pointing a long rifle at the both of them. After I had my son, it was as if a gaping hole opened up in me that I felt compelled to fill with as much knowledge of that grim time as I could. It became an obsession. As if the newly forged mother-son connection opened up a whole new possible world of unimaginable loss and grief about which I had to learn everything, immediately. Why ? To ward it off ? To reassure myself about our own safety ? To convince myself that unspeakable things only happened in black-and-white, long ago, to other people ? There is a sense in which it was like pornography: the vicariousness, and the intensity of emotion with which it filled me. Grief porn, not sex porn. Safe grief. A rehearsal. Or was it mourning for the inutterable sadness of the world ? Or both ?

Last night I wondered about a composer appropriating 9-11 images in a fashion similar to Reich's. I asked DK. "Too soon," he opined. There's a real sense that artists are tomb raiders -- stealing from history, from the tradition. There is transgression. There are boundaries. There are places that seem raw, untouchable, sacred. One must almost ask forgiveness in advance before entering. Or perform some act of ablution, expiation. Maybe there is no way to do it that is not shameless plunder and invasion.

I have put the Holocaust into poems, but not often. I felt my "permission" to write this one was that it was about a Nazi medical "researcher" Dr Rascher, a fellow physician. I wrote it in 1995. I had worked for over ten years as a doctor in state prisons. But, to this date, I am not sure that it is permission enough.


DR RASCHER'S HEAVENLY CHARIOT

It was a secret
within a secret

It made even
Himmler sick,

the tall box on wheels
behind Block 5
in Dachau

It could simulate
a vertical dive
from 32,000 feet

with or without oxygen

Dr Rashcher
had a deadline to meet

October 25
the great
Luftwaffe Conference
on Freezing

and Nuernberg
is so lovely
in the fall, Fraulein,
we could walk together on the bank
of the River Regnitz
under the tall lindens
and I could give you nylons
and a tin of potted meat perhaps
after the Scientific Sessions
if you would only, if you...

He was worried

They brought him
a 37 year old Jew
in good general condition

They brought him
four Gypsy women
from another camp

He gave them all a ride
in his heavenly chariot

recording his
meticulous observations
in a careful hand

male subject at 12 Km
no supplemental oxygen

subject breathed
for 30 minutes
diaphoresis
and myoclonus
appeared at four
tetany at five
tachypnea at six
unconsciousness by ten
and then a gradual
slowing of the breath
to three per minute
with deepening cyanosis
and foam at the lips
until breathing ceased at thirty;

electrocardiographic activity
continued for another twenty
and at autopsy,
the atria still quivered
even after the spine was severed
and the brain pulled
from its heavy, subarachnoid
oedema

(applause)

He was worried about
the warming with body heat experiments
Himmler was insisting

But, damn it, he’d so meticulously documented
the results of cooling !
The excitation, the progressive rigors,
the flexion contractures, the tonic-clonic activity
and how when he chilled them
to 26.5 C rectally
it was the submersive chilling of the occiput
that would invariably result in fatality --
paresis of the thermoregulatory
centers of the brainstem
he’d speculate learnedly

(applause)

.... then arm in arm, Fraulein,
flush in a lovely season,
the Regnitz flowing
beneath our balcony
thanks to our gracious
Reichsfuehrer
it could mean a University
appointment after the war
crimson leaves upturned
spinning downstream
I will run a finger
under the silk
of your gown
at the shoulder
in the shadows

But warming with body heat.

Oh, let’s dial in
a fall from 10 Km,
and then
two hours in the ice pool
at 2C,
yes, yes the helmet
and kapok vest,
and this time keep
the damned occiput up
for heaven’s sake
and the rectal thermistor secured
for my meticulous observations

maybe this one will live
long enough to rewarm...

...O Savior of the noble
Luftwaffe, Dr Sigmund Rascher,
Professor Untersturnfuerher Rascher, in the
shadows above the lovely river,
along the shoulder of the lovely Fraulein
I slowly run my finger
along the supraclavicular hollow
down the costochondral ridge
to xiphoid, rectus, navel, pubes
thanks to our gracious
Reichsfuehrer Himmler
if only he
lives
if only he
will warm
if only he


Prepare the bed !
get the Gypsy whores
from Station RF, bastard,
and drag the shivering bastard from the pool,
that’s it, oh it’ll take two at least,
throw them on, that’s right,
right on top of him,
now warm him, you dogs,
warm him
warm him
warm him !









































Saturday, October 18, 2003

Byrd, Bush

It seems, some days, that GWB passes up NO chance to deliver someone or something over to the grim reaper: from his days as Lord High Executioner in Texas, to his current project for a new century of endless war, he is one hell of a thanatocentric dude.

Even when he eats Thai food there is occasion for sacrifice and suffering -- an intraperitoneal injection of pad thai cannot be a positive experience for a mouse.

I am thinking of the deer mouse, Admiral Byrd, who lived with us for three months last frigid winter, snatched from the jaws of feline death one midnight by my son. Miraculously, he (she?) lived through the night, and I had to decide what to do.

How could such a quivering nubbin of protoplasm survive near zero temps and snow ? Following various snippets of advice, and secretly terrified I'd be dead of hanta virus within hours, I got the little creature a plastic cage, nesting material, water, food, swaddled the cage up in a towel to "simulate the inside of a wall," and left it alone as much as possible. Byrd took over the guest room, door shut, of course to keep out four kitties who just KNEW something delectable was in there.

And there he endured until April, when I upended the cage under the rhododendrons, and he scampered off.

Was I jailer or savior ? These categories do not pertain, probably, in the mouse mind. His months with me may have been worse than having presidential Thai food injected into one's abdomen, for all I know. My coworkers, save one (my compadre semi-veg, animal-rights L.), thought I was nuts.

But I do know that my mouse truly earned his name. In 1934 Admiral Byrd wintered in Antarctica alone in an ice hermitage, Bolling Advance Weather Base, eventually sickened and half crazed by a malfunctioning stove; he survived, and wrote an amazing account of it in "Alone," one of the seminal books of my reading and mental life.

A diary entry of his, April 14, describes the utter beauty of the landscape observed during a walk "at 4 pm in 89 degrees of frost" -- the sun sinking below the horizon, Venus rising, the aurora, the silence -- and he concludes, rapturously: "In that instant I could feel no doubt of man's oneness with the universe...It was a feeling that transcended reason; that went to the heart of man's despair and found it groundless. The universe was a cosmos, not a chaos; man was as rightfully a part of that cosmos as were the day and night."






Friday, October 17, 2003

Down By The Old Mill Stream

The Charles WAS a mill stream; a mill river, at least. And the part of the path near here where I've been walking was where a dyeworks was decades ago. I went there again today, on my way home from a trip to the ATM on River Street. It felt wonderful to be walking in the bright, cool day. I decided to return by way of the bike path. It's odd, well maybe not, how jumpy I am around cars since my smash-up. They seem malevolent, hell-bent on me. I can envision even more catastrophes than I could before the wreck. That's a lotta catastophizing.

On the dirty white bridge that goes over the Chrles just past the old Jimenez Auto Body shop, I was in full daydream mode. I was gazing across the street at a neatly dressed, very dignified older woman. "A nun," I thought, remembering the nuns who drove me around in the rain at the Merton retreat, and then promptly tangled my feet in some autumnal detritus and crashed to the sidewalk. (Try keeping track of YOUR feet wearing bifocals and an aspen collar.)

"This is probably EXACTLY what someone with osteoporosis and a broken neck shouldn't be doing," I thought on my way down, deeply embarrassed, scrambling to my feet lest some samaritan rush to my aid and deepen my embarrassment. Ten yards of limping brought me to the entrance of the path. With great relief, I ducked into the woods to lick my wounds. Which are, thank God, minimal: lumpy bruise under left patella, twinges here and there.

So it was a beautiful walk. I stopped to gaze at a welter of branches and weed stalks, clumps of asters, clusters of berries. One twig looked so pale and translucent that I thought of my own bones, my poor old vitamin-D starved skeleton, and felt a sudden stark kinship that nearly brought me to tears. And to my knees. As if my whole body wanted to express what I was feeling. Prostration. The bow of bows. One-ness, humility, gratitude.

This is incarnation, I thought, all of this. A cruciform telephone pole rose behind some low white pines. Behind it, blinding sunshine.

I ducked into a small footpath that leads right to the river bank, the one criss crossed by python-sized roots, picking my way carefully over them. The pathside was strewn with several pieces of clothing -- a sweatshirt, a jacket, something that looked like a demolished back pack. And there, on a little bushy outcropping, almost hidden from view, I saw a tent. Old, blue, dirty, domed.

Someone's living here. Suddenly I felt like an intruder, and quietly left. Speculating seems a violation.

It was noon. Sext. Speculate comes from seeing. Nothing is more visible than a crucifixion at high noon. Noon: the hour of incarnation. No wonder darkness fell.












In(e)scape

Finally, after weeks of UN level shuttle diplomacy with Margaret the Beth Israel Film Librarian, my neck MRI arrives via Fedex.

I tear the envelope open, greedy for a look at my innards.

The pictures are beautiful, and creepy at the same time. Me, as bisected cadaver. Me voila, indeed.

I was reflecting, the other day, about the inner landscape. How the heart feels impossibly remote, like some God dwelling at the core of a mountain. In fact, I can feel my heart tapping on my ribcage when I lie on my left side and exhale, doing its lub dub thing centimeters from my probing hand.

The brain seems elsewhere. Aloft, I think. Upstairs. Certainly not a trepanation away. Uterus ? Occulted, for sure. Something curled in a den, hibernating, underground. In the next county. I remember my astonishment when, pregnant, I could first feel it rising above the pubic symphysis. The spleen ? Off somewhere slouching in a disreputable bar, cell phone off, hours late for dinner. Intestines ? Tunneling to China.

There is dissection, then there is putting the body back together and living in it. Same with mind, all those busy, fusty skandhas noted and released, noted and released.

There is etymology, then there is putting the word back together.

And in poetry, seeing, and saying. The force and rightness of things. Pulling out GMHopkins to refresh myself on "inscape," I find excerpts from his journals -- rude sketches of a bluebell and an ash twig, and ruminations on their "inscape." Their isness, their suchness.

I think the project of the rest of my life has become the reconstructive one, the reconstitutive one. Seems somehow fitting to my current state of mild fallen apartness.






Thursday, October 16, 2003

Joe. Mow. Flow.

Operating on the theory that walking and outdoors are an indisputably holistic and life-affirming combination, I struck out into the beautiful, clear, windy afternoon.

First off, I met Joe, who, noticing my Frankenstein Collar, and hearing about my smash-up, counseled me to sue Cell Phone Dude From Hell immediately. He would. If he were me. Even for the few gallons of unused gas that might have been in my poor old lavender Corolla when it met its maker ! For my pain and suffering. For my, goddamn it, lack of FUN ! Wink wink. I squatted to pat the cutesy little pup, Winston. It seemed pleased. Joe and I came to a quick agreement about how cell phones and driving do not mix.

I was going to head to Gore Place and scope out the sheep, but my Judge Judyesque chat w/ Joe so addled me that before I knew it, I was halfway to the river. Fair enough. Haven't been to the Chuck for weeks, since my days of weed and wildflower spotting.

Much to my surprise, someone (who?) has given the Charles River bike path a haircut !

All those luxuriant ranks of hosannah-waving horseweed are GONE ! Mowed to a flat lawn. Along with many of the other overgrown stands of weed and vine. Not, I suppose, in a bad or ugly way, but in a way that clears out for next year's growth -- and there's plenty left to observe, naturally -- but, gosh, it looks different !

The beautiful phragmites have been decapitated, but that outlandish, tall and delicate grass I couldn't identify, with the spare calligraphic seedhead w/ orange and purple fuzzy tongues, that's still there -- the seeds involuted to a spare dull brown. I was glad to see them. The loosestrife has all gone out. Snuffed brown wicks. The tendrilled grape-vine like thing near the footbridge, with the small white flowers has sprouted huge, wild, spiky green pods. The only color, now, is from the late blooming asters -- purple, and white. The bees were going at it. Waxy fruits were everywhere: light dusty blue (?holly), red,
dark blue. Plus choke cherries, and nightshade berries. A few evening primrose still had a yellow petal or two, but, by and large, the world was busily going to seed in a million shades of brown.

I felt very happy. There was wind, and movement, and the sound of the wind. There was the smell of the water, and the cascade of memories that invokes. Ducks on the water -- some mallards with their shiny green heads. Birds fluttering in the underbrush. Seeing and hearing and thinking and the world seemed one seamless flow.

May all beings be as happy as I was in that moment, and as at peace.


Eight Ages Of Rust

anita rust

Freak

I like the word. I like the way it sounds, the bald anglosaxophonicity of it. Plus, I have decided that I am a freak. In the old sense of the word. "A product of irregular or sportive fancy," or "a sudden causeless change or turn of the mind; a capricious humour, whim or vagary." From "dancing," explains the compact OED, which I can just barely still read without the magnifier.

I put forth this theory to my internist during my physical. The topic was my cleverly having contracted a riproaring case of the adult version of rickets. She reassured me that I was not the only person to have done so. Paused. Added, "maybe the only doctor, though."

QED.

Freak freak freak freak freak ! Lusus naturae, to be more Latinate about it.

Am I, though, a freak of nature or nurture ? I had the blandest of childhoods. (I am reading "Running w/ Scissors" -- compared to that, anyone's childhood seems Leave-it-to-Beaverish.) We're talking WAY beyond Winnicott's "good enough mothering." I had more than enough of everything a kiddo needs.

Thus I must posit nature as the culprit.

And Erik Erikson.

Of course that's like crediting evolution itself to Darwin, and not the nature of things. But what the hell.

A few years ago I wrote a series of poems based on Erikson's "Eight Ages of Man" (yes, MAN) in "Childhood and Society." It's a staircase-like schema along which one moves, optimally, from Basic Trust to Ego Integrity; in my case I seem to have chosen the stairs that ascend from Basic Mistrust to Despair, tripping along the way on shame, guilt, inferiority, role confusion, isolation and stagnation. Or at least that's how it seems some days.

Of course I'm giving a less than nuanced reading of his text.

But I'm convinced that the basic existential and neurochemical factor in my life has been shyness. All my freakiness flows from that, or from my ill-considered rebellions against it. Club feet ? Well then ! Be a ballerina ! Terribly shy ! Why not practice medicine ? Same freakin' thing, no ? Well, no, I suppose not.

I suppose Big Pharma would have me popping Paxil for my "social anxiety disorder." Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will run with effortless small talk.

I am always reminded of a bit from a Woody Allen movie where he takes an employment aptitude test, and finds out he's most suited to being a "shepherd."

Mine would advise Trappist monk, I'm sure.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

To Hell In A Hanon Basket

I used to love to thunder dorky Hanon piano exercises up and down the keyboard. The warm up. Truth is, I am mostly unmusical and terribly lazy.

I remember, in the sixth grade, being set back from the first to the second row in the chorus "because you don't open your mouth wide enough." Oh sure, joshed my parents, implying it was what was emanating from my mouth that was the problem, not the size of it. I caught their subtext. And they were correct. Can't sing. Never could.

But, still, I want to wake up a prodigy and never break a sweat. That's not to say I haven't loved messing with instruments my whole life, and even hacked up some skill on the clarinet and recorder. But I overall I am sub-dilletante, happiest when thundering Hanon. As musical as waterskiing, as hanging-on-for-the-ride.

My father told me, a few years back, over bad Chinese food: you are addicted to writing. Oh pshaw, I muttered inwardly, dismissing his comment as a pop-cult way-off-the-mark analysis.

Turns out he was right. Like gambling. The more praise and/or publication I got, the more I wrote. Pavlovian. I was a poetry machine. An ugly stinky factory. Submitting like a banshee, then resubmitting when they came back, rejected. Like bad meat re-sold to the poor. Cranking 'em out with little revision. Capitalismo. Kathunk kathunk kathunk goes the iamb machine. No wonder I have abolished my shelf of little mags to the spare room, and replaced them with texts concerned with wordlessness and absolution. Evidence of my shame.

But I've written all my life.

It was better when it was completely private, even secret. I learned some things from "workshopping," but not much. The group grope feel of it always troubled me. Doing readings was wierd. Totally not-me. Performing with the JCA: how did I ever do it ? And now look. A blog. The irony is paralyzing. I am shameless.

Shame. Being seen.

It has always struck me that one of the projects of the anorexic is to disappear from view. And the paradox is that, by shrinking, she becomes a spectacle. And that there is a secret pride in the spectacle. Look. Don't look. A terrible bind.

At the Megalomart the other day w/ DK getting fixings for tea with Greer I saw one of those incredibly thin adolescent girls, low-ride jeans virtually painted onto stick legs, fleshless arms twigging out of a sleeveless shirt: I've got your number honey, I wanted to say, brutally, without compassion. Still pissed at my own inner annie.

It's a bright, windy afternoon. I'm trying to ignite something here, write my way at least into the general vicinity of the Prime poem. Prime is 6 am, it turns out. When I wake. The Trappists have been up for hours.

I watched the Cistercian video yesterday, the Abbey at Spencer. It was beautiful and moving. The monks built it, stone by stone, in 1950. There was grainy film of them hauling rocks.

I would love to live my life over as a trappist monk. No, not a nun, not a "Bride of Christ" -- a Monk. A brother.

Talk about an odd variation on penis envy. Celibate penis envy. What would the Alienist say ?

Child, you have become clinically insane. Go forth from the chamber of psychoanalysis and take thee to the ugly dens and warrens of Big Pharma. There Zoloft and Abilify await to resurrect you and restore your powers.


Dossier and Dossier by the Moment

I offered to "sex-up" DKs promotion "dossier" (their word) and he was briefly taken aback, not being the BBC listener I am, and not having followed the "sexing up the dossier" scandal that led to Dr Kelly's suicide and the judicial hearings and actual accountability being sought.

I told him GOVERNMENTS produce dossiers. Part-time harmony teachers should not have to.

I think the requirements of his dossier have resulted in a document probably more complicated and byzantine that Tony Blair's. He showed me two three ring binders worth of stuff. John Heiss was faxing supporting documents here at 8 this morning. But at least DKs "dossier" has integrity, in grand contradistinction to Tony Blair's and to all the material Dubya et alia foisted forth as reasons for war.

DK worked on his dossier (God I love that word) for days. I told him I'd insert some text about New England Conservatory possessing harmonies of mass destruction with a 45 minute launch capability toward Berklee "Nothing Conservatory About It" College of Music. He declined.

I think the work "dossier" is ALMOST as cool as the French name Didier.



Tuesday, October 14, 2003

World Without Me, Amen Amen

This "medical leave" gives me the small, domestic sense of a world going on quite nicely without me, thank you. I am in my BATHROBE at 10:30 AM on Tuesday morning.

Needless to say, this little snippet of obviousness balloons into the fact that "the world" has and always will "go on without me," in TSEliot's sense of time before and time after; the moon, after all, does NOT bear a grudge, neither against "me" nor against my original face before I was born. "We were all together at the big bang" is not a particularly comforting thought, other than on a coldly cerebral level. Of course that's my turf.

I hate the word "spiritual." I hate it when it's spoken aloud with a rolling-around-upon the tongue evangelical voluptuousness, lots of emphasis on the R's and a porky "ch" right chunk in the middle. Spurrrrrch'l. Spurs, retching, church. I've replaced it in my discourse with a hedging "metaphysical," though that's not much better.

I hate the word "healing." Fine thing for a doc, eh ? I use it begrudgingly in it the narrow sense of a bodily illness or injury resolving. But it's been one of those words co-opted for marketing purposes. Invoke "healing" and the field of moral authority has been claimed. Next thing you know, "closure" will have been achieved.

It gives me the willies.

And while we're on the topic of oogy words, why does the word "tits" sound so satisfyingly tough-minded, and "titties" so, well, creepily salacious ?

I must remove this bathrobe instantly. It is "creepy" to be in a bathrobe" at 10:30 AM on a Tuesday. There is nothing salacious about this robe, however.

GG was here yesterday. We had tea, and ice cream/soy icecream. It was splendid. We yucked it up, shared poems and cosmologies (she has renamed the whole sky for her created world. It's breathtaking. I was moved to see the star charts.) She brought tales of her most interesting cirlcles of friends, and we shared wicked glee about many things. DK drove her home via a surreal visit to "staples," a hell of red marketing banners and office supplies. He kept ranting about my "saintly" and uncharacteristic refusal to get incensed at the auto dealership.

I must read George Whitesides' scholarly paper on the scientific assumptions that will crumble. One of which seems to be "That there will be a world." He's won some kind of major Japanese prize; GG's friend Barbara, his wife, old Wellesley prof, will meet the emperor. His father "discovered Egypt" or some such thing. It's exciting to be within six degrees of sep. from such marvelous and accomplished -- and reportedly genuinely nice -- folks.

PF and MK from work will visit tonight. I have sent emails warning them about the squalor. I did not mention the vague odor of cat piss that, unable to crawl about on the floor sniffing, I have yet to find and abolish.

Maybe I'll tackle "Prime" today.





Monday, October 13, 2003

There were balloons and

very loud very bad music on outdoor speakers; inside there were bowls of pathetically over-picked ruffled potato chips; sausages were promised. (I am a vegan, I muttered, darkly. Popcorn was invoked. ) The outdoor music was so loud I thought of the FBI's psycho-warfare against the Koresh Branch Davidian compound; men in stiff suits milled on the sidewalk -- Mormons ? Undertakers ? No.

Car salesmen.

But I had an epiphany.

I was entering a world with its own set of rules and procedures. Its own scripts. The men (they were all men today) working in it have their own agendas, processes, rituals, goals. Like in medicine. I expect patients to undress and don johnnies. I expect them to tell me certan things, and to allow me to touch them, to invade their rectums and vaginas for God's sakes ! I feel irritated by (but try to accommodate) patients who can't tolerate the "rules" -- and a lot of it IS empty ritual.

I know the goals of selling a car and of providing healthcare are not comparable.

But I decided that, insofar as it is possible, I would abide by the "buying a car" rules and rituals. And be polite. DK was chafing, pissed, wanted to bolt. More men kept arriving, each some sort of sub-manager, each with clipboards, promises, suggestions, attempts to pin us down to cars, timetables, appointments, anything. Many had that hairstyle, that upgreased spiky one, that seems au courant. They were large and hearty.

People who sell cars have a pretty lousy job, and I'm going to try and keep my inner crank in a Gorian lockbox during this whole ordeal. It will not be easy w/ DK at my side.

Needless to say, we didn't buy one today.

The horror.



Decidual

Astonishing glimpses of fall from my recent Persephenoid undergroundedness: leaves turrning colors, and some, now, even falling. I like the hectic feel of movement -- leaves in the air, tumbling along the street in the wind with that unique scritching sound. Like everything's on pilgrimage. The backyard crabgrasslawn has browned nicely, and wears a dusting of leaves. Mr Sturgis has arrived under the cover of darkness and quietly removed the remaining two dead hemlocks, those ill-fated trees that that lawn care lothario Mr Caruso foisted of onto us landscape naifs.

There's a certain deciduousness happening here, too. The Goddess entropy has taken up residence and is having her way with my house.
Scraps of unidentifiable effluvium litter the floor. The rugs seem to be sprouting nubbins of small mammals. The litter box room -- well, there must be clauses in the Public health Laws that pertain.

Persephone. Weil keeps mentioning how she ate the pomegranite seed, and her fate was sealed -- Kore a mange le grenade. Hey, Uncle Sig, doesn't a pomegranite seem more feminine than phallic ? Except for all those little seeds. Nothing androgynous, though, about the God of the Underworld. I am reminded of my first glimpse of a living testis. In surgery, in medical school. It resembles, I thought, astonished, a peeled egg.

I am also remembering the day I sat in Dr M's office catharting, deeply immersed in, lost in, the last extra-late limb of my residency, circa 1993, miserable and addled beyond belief. It was a lovely spring day, and the window was slightly open, and I remember cool wind on my elbow. His office was a sanctuary, laden with the whole experience of my psychoanalysis with him 2 decades prior. He saw me gratis a few times a month when I was at my worst there, simply trying to get through the next moment. It struck me, that day, that to me practicing medicine was like a marriage to the God of the Underworld, and that the rest of my life -- writing, family -- was like my springtime reunion with Demeter. The other image that keeps returning is that of Jonah in the whale's belly.

The doctor despite herself.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Denial, Repression, Sublimation...

...and many more frankly Freudian defense mechanisms were in play yesterday when my associations to the Beautiful Big Black Refrigerator did not lead to the obvious, hideous, real-world consumer imperative that is staring me in the face.

Remember: I am a woman who quails -- seriously quails -- at buying socks and shampoo. Who considers shopping lower than several unmentionable bodily functions in the hierarchy of shame and disgust.

I (gasp) must buy (oh oh oh oh) a (ululululululululate) car.

Or, as some might chipperly say "purchase a vehicle."

I am beseiged by TV-fueled marketing images. All those ROTATING cars. Yes, rotating. In ads, they invariably rotate. Or have some luscious babe draped over them. Or rotate, draped w/babe. As they navigate (and despoil) tract upon tract of wilderness. At breakneck speeds that we are cautioned (in small print) not to undertake ourselves, not being "trained drivers" on "closed tracks."

Or that cosy ad of a couple buying a car on the internet. Clicking on all the options. "Building" their new car, I think the ad calls it. As if they were Simone Weil toiling in the Renault plant. The dude wants a cool stereo. The chick deems that a tad (only a tad, mind you) frivolous. They smile, exude acceptable degrees of greed, all will be well, etc etc etc.

Some inarticulate fellow named Pete from Planet Insurance explained to me why he has decided to give me $7000 for my poor dead car. Coulda been $8000, coulda been $6500, so, landing somewhere in the arbitrary midzone between the two Sources he consulted, he came up w/ 7000. Hmmm. That's not very much, I demur. He waxed indignant. I waxed silent.

I really liked the letter I got from Cellphone Dude From Hell's insurance company reminding me several times that it was my responsibility to "mitigate" something so that I could receive the excellent service that I deserved. Mitigate what, asshole, I wanted to scream: mitigate the ugly gash in the side of my dead car ? (The photos we took of it, and scraggly-haired, be-collared me, resplendant in Hawaiian shirt and plaid, posing next to it came yesterday.) Mitigate my broken neck ? Shouldn't Cellphone Dude From Hell done a little pro-active mitigating before he ploughed into us ? Mitigate. Sure.

But, yes, I must buy a car.

The horror.



Saturday, October 11, 2003

Fridge'O'My Dreams

In my dream, M. had bought a $4000 beautiful black refrigerator -- chic, a burnished graphite icon. I was disturbed by the expense and needless extravagance, and was relieved to wake up and find it, as the saying goes "was just a dream."

No dreams are "just" dreams. I am, yes, post Freudian, very much so. But, if only for their lightness and interestingness, dreams are important. What do they "mean" ? What does anything "mean" ? Maybe "how" do they mean is a better question. Or, how does one read them. Like a poem, I think.

Major appliances have always reminded me of death. They seem so ponderous and inevitable. They are curated by the funereal and unctuous. And refrigerators -- need one mention how they close like coffins, how they chill like morgues, and how bacilli continue to rot the contents, albeit more slowly, despite the cheerful and hygeinic promises ?

Associate, then, to the beautiful black refirgerator. The black box of death, like the kitties' carrier we jokingly call "the red box'o'death." Then, poor dead Meana, deflated to rag doll on the bloody pink quilt in the vet's room'o'death. Then there's the opening scene of 2001 space odyssey, of course, and its black monolith.

And the ceilings -- all those ceilings I stared at that first day at Beth Israel. The elevator I rode down to MRI the ceiling had a huge, rectangular, dark steel plate. Burnished, but not terribly reflective. In the middle of it was a smaller square, maybe a door, of metal just subtly different. After hours of styrofoam suspended ceiling I found it oddly beautiful in a post modern way, and told the perky MRI techs that I found it so. (Yes, perky: near midnight the dears burst into my ER cubicle and announced Hi ! We're Pat and Liz from MRI ! I could not help hearing echos of the Simpsons' "Hi ! I'm Dr. Nick," and also dourer echos of "Pat and Dick," as in the Nixons. Clang clang clang goes the trolley of associations.)

But the beautiful refrigerator was like that beautiful ceiling, and an MRI tube is probably smaller than a coffin, as the ceiling seemed inches from my nose. And ugly. It looked like someone had stuck a "smiley face" sticker there, once, that had only been incompletely removed.

Ah, the ubiquity of kitsch.


Friday, October 10, 2003

The POEM

Mid-April Lauds: Yolanda


... two birds are on the branch of a tree. One eats the fruit, the other looks at it.
-- Simone Weil


Each morning’s light unveils
the window dresser’s work.
I slow my car to view
the new day’s latest oeuvre

of other women’s clothes --
long, silky, flowing, flecked
with slivers of brightness --
if not the work of God,

at least the work of one
well-schooled in beauty, praise.
Each day I praise his praise
remembering the time

monks welcomed me as Christ,
as Benedict prescribed,
scandal and all, unfit
for sacramental bread.

It rained the whole time, hard.
Rain is a fesitval,
wrote Father Louis, free
and meaningless. It talks

without aspersion. Pools
dotted the Abbey woods.
I was prepared to praise,
but miserere mei

came first, asparges me.
Forgive my trespassing.
I did my best to keep
up with the seasoned flock

who knew it all by heart
my mouth proclaim your praise
O Lord make haste to help.
I bowed when they bowed, sure

all my iniquities
were manifest. And when
Lauds segued into Mass
my stomach growled, unused

to so much liturgy
before coffee and toast.
So I, the welcomed guest,
sat, famished, in the choir

and watched the others eat
the beautiful, bright bread
that joined them into One
praiseworthy body, Christ’s.

And so I praised it all --
the monks, the rain-flecked trees,
the long, dark silken flow
of water eastward, spring’s

new fashions and first fruits,
the rind, the chaff, the board
that spurned my unshriven flesh
as it welcomed my gaze.

Revved Up

I've been ploughing through Weil's notebooks in French for a quote about looking and eating to use as epigraph for my Yolanda poem, hence the bad French pun of the title.

The Valium I'm eating at bedtime has screwed up my REM, but I had a brief vivid dream after falling back to sleep this morning. There was a part about rooms and a house, my usual habitat type dream, but then, clearly, I am a priest, and assigned to help a large roomful of people. They are all milling about; the room is filling faster than I can work. I am sitting at some table in a large hall, like a municipal auditorium, and, one by one, the petitioners tell me their stories. There's no privacy (take that, dream hipaa, pfffttttt!) They're not much different from patients' stories, except that I am a priest and not real sure of what to do. The first one is a guy, I forget his story. Poverty, sadness. I think I ask him whether he's "turned to Jesus" and feel sort of bogus doing so, inauthentic but obligated since I am a priest. The second petitioner is a woman, burnt-out, neither young nor old, masked facies, crazy, admitting to me she has done none of the things she was asked to do upon discharge from the looney bin, and I mumble something about how I am also a doctor and how many times medical treatment actually helps, and I remember to ask her about suicidality -- and then to my horror, remember I haven't asked my first client about the same ---

Then some loud machine from Joe's yard wakes me up.

Today I am full of spleen about the whole notion of writing poetry. I am in that place of nausea, disgust, and, yes, inauthenticity. This is the point at which one muscles on in spite of it, eh ?

Sure, why not.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Vatican: condoms don't stop Aids

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Vatican: condoms don't stop Aids

Then, of course, lest we forget, there's Catholicism's antediluvian, pre-scientific, genocidal, human-rights violating side.

My Breviary

My WHAT ?

I've pulled it out for my Yolanda poem, needing snippets of Lauds to quote. Like a Yolanda gown, I love this inaccessible little book, with its five pretty ribbons -- green, white, purple, yellow, blue -- all undoubtedly significant, all absolutely necessary for navigating this impossibly byzantine prayer book. The abridged version, yet.

I did a few rounds of psalmody in the way-simpler episcopal BCP, whose psalter alternates morning and evening straight through, one through 150. Some great poetry there, and some real ugly stuff too. Vengeance, dashing babies against rocks. The whole gamut. The BCP's a way lovelier translation, too, than my little breviary. But, then again, translation: I wanted to use the de profundis psalm in my vigils poem -- "my soul waits for the lord/more than a watchman waits for morning" -- to use the vulgate latin because Arvo Part's De Profundis had so inspired the poem. So here's the Latin and the translation:

Speravit anima mea in Domino.
A custodia matutina usque ad noctem speret Israhel in Domino

My soul hath hoped in the Lord
From the morning watch even until night, let Israel hope in the Lord.

So where's the watchman waiting for morning ?

Yolanda

What's this atavistic dress shop got to do with anything ?

There it sits, on rather outre piece of Route 60, cinderblock white, with that outlandish limo poised outside, and that window -- with its daily gown tableau -- displaying garments that are as foreign to my own sartorial habits ("Dr. T. dresses like a farmer") as martian attire.

I confess: I love the place. I deeply approve of it.

Passing it in my car, I slow down to get whatever safe glimpse I can of the latest dress in the window. They are SO beautiful. I love that they exist, and that women exist who wear them, and are beautiful in them.

This may sound odd from the unnatural woman who nearly anaphylaxes at the thought of an off-hours sprint into TJMaxx to replace the last remaining unripped and unstained garment that she's accidentally dyed pink in the wash because aluminum foil and paper towels are all that remain to wear to work.

Not that I'd ever go IN Yolanda's, mind you. My God. A contemptuous Butler with a fumigator's backpack would snuff me in a trice, roach that I am. Begone, woman beyond make-over.

Two weeks in an Aspen collar, an accumulating deficit of showers and hairwashes have done nothing for my already sagging self image. I'm probably growing a beard under this thing.

DK took me on an errand last night. I had to buy thank you note cards for the funerary bank of flowers wilting in our den, and soymilk creamer, the sine qua non of my totally fucked-up vegan lifestyle. The world seemed surreal after my recent hiatus from it. They'd gutted the drugstore, and it seemed stripped, dismantled, and remantled into an alien parallel universe drugstore. I noted a solid wall of women's faces: the hair dye aisle. None of them seemed a day over 20. WTF, I asked my dear spouse, gesticulating wildly at the greasy gray scraggles attractively framing my Aspen collar, none of these women even NEED to dye their hair !!!

I will dwell on it no more. Nor on the clear plastic baseball bats filled with sunflower seeds. Nor on any other aspect of that sad hell of consumable effluvium. Only to say that I asked DK "How many people commit suicide in these aisles on a daily basis from the sheer ugliness of this place ?" He, bless him, did not know.

The moon was wonderful. We agreed it lacked a tiny bit of its left side. I thought about moons not bearing grudges as I always do, thanks a lot brain stuck forever in college lit courses, and we got the soymilk, and that was that.

So why Yolanda ?

I'm trying to fit it into a poem alongside Glastonbury Abbey. Lauds. Praise for beautiful things that exist, but from which I am excluded.