Saturday, September 29, 2012

River Beach

Behind us is a long dike, running for miles: open grassy country, a little bleak. The bluff falls to the beach, and where it reaches the sand, runs into a thicket of blackberry. The September sun is low, and the blackberry casts a shadow far out into the sand. We sit in its shade and watch the river.

A long straight line of ragged silver pilings runs out into the river on our left. Martha tells me it's where the log booms used to tie up.

The wind is stiff and the river is alive with sailboats. We talk idly of getting a boat – what sort of boat? Motor or sail? We haven't been out on the river since Ernie's death, and to talk of boats is to defy mortality. I wonder if we'll ever get one. In the back yard, under a tarp, is the old dinghy, which has moved everywhere with us, and which we have put in the water exactly once. It's moldering away, and I even made so bold, this Spring, as to suggest that we finally get rid of it. No.

It's a strange, barren beach, north of the airport, looking across to Washington State. I'm not sure why we go there. It's not a beautiful place, and the beaches are littered with broken glass, cigarette butts and detritus; it's nearly as bad as a beach on the East Coast. Airplanes roar up from the airport and over our heads. The people who come to this beach are not the people who hike up the gorge: they're immigrants, or working class kids looking for a party, generally with an escort of big, untrained, but good-natured dogs, who plunge into the chilly water, chasing sticks. Not the sort of place your Nature Conservancy or Audubon Society people go.

Three Mexican men fish from the beach that's built up against the pilings. Their rods are too far away to see except when they catch the exact angle to reflect the sun at us: then they flash into existence for a moment, wands of brilliant light, and disappear again.

Gulls, cormorants, ospreys. Bald eagles come here at times, but not today. But as we're leaving we see a hawk, or an eagle, that baffles us. Too bulky for an osprey, wrong color for a redtail. And it's fishing. Could it possibly be an immature golden eagle? We can't decide.

We'd worn our bathing suits under our clothes, in the faint hope that we might warm up enough to find the idea of swimming attractive. Not a chance. But we watched the sailboats, the birds, the plunging dogs. It was a good day. The good weather has stayed long past its time, and for all the sun, and the bareness of Mt Hood – who ought to be in her new brilliant white winter coat by now – it feels nothing like summer. There's an uneasiness to the air and to the water. Sound won't hang properly in the air.

We walked slowly back, picking up some of the larger shards of glass, and fragments of styrofoam packing, and dropping them into a cloth bag as we went. The instinct to pack out more than you pack in is pretty entrenched in us, even here, where of course there will never be a clean beach again.

October comes soon.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Shadow of a Harvest

A hesitant muzzle flicks my ear,
the brush of whiskers threads my beard;

the strange dry supple flesh of snakes
prickles its way across my wrists and the backs of my hands.

I have much company today. Bumblebees at my elbows,
and fleas springing up from the dusty floors,

looking for room at the inn: their wanderings
as epic as Old Manyturns. What Circe have they left?

Will they attain the inside of the knee at last?
Soft flesh, sweet blood, three holy men with gifts?

The cat lands on the sill with a thump,
a rat still twitching feebly in her mouth:

the house yaws: its fins break the surface of the ground,
it breathes and shudders. All this fuss

for a few stains of fluid – for one skittery attempt –
for one Indian summer's shadow of a harvest.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Pie Charts

But I do want to bring the amount of time I spend on things more in line with what I purportedly want, and value: not necessarily by chivvying myself to do more of what I ought to do so much as by realizing that I am making my declarations of what I value by spending my time. There is nothing wrong with treasuring my interactions on Facebook – I have always been, really, an occasional writer, drawn to the glittering surfaces of things; almost a writer of epigram, except that I'm a too wordy. I like floating down a current of random thoughts and responding to them.

On a thread about catcalls and wolf-whistling, I wrote:
Not a sexual response exactly but a response to sexual frustration and humiliation, I think. It's a way of swaggering in front of the other subadult males: "I'm so studly I can make advances to any unattached female! Right here in public! Louder than any of you!" Of course, the only people it can possibly impress are other subadult males even more anxious than you are, but hey, we're primates, we'll take status where we can find it :-)

And in response to a link to a biographical essay about Obama:
Roy Jenkins, I think in his biography of Truman, said something like: "The American republic has many qualities, but recognizing greatness in a sitting president is not one of them." I'm not even a political ally of Obama, except by necessity, but I think he's one of the four or five most impressive people ever to hold the office.

I like summing up, recapitulating, settling my thoughts in an orderly fashion. And I like chatting with people. I've never chatted much with people face to face: I talk too slowly, and get flustered too easily. So it's fun for me to chat in the written word. I type as fast as I talk, if not faster. And on a keyboard there's a backspace key, something that viva voce woefully lacks.

Still, if I was to make a rough pie chart of what's important to me, and a rough pie chart of where I put my time, the slice devoted to chatting on Facebook (and blogs, though there's a less of that, these days) would be about five times larger in the second pie than in the first. And, contrariwise, the time devoted to less occasional writing would be about five times smaller. I don't want to be a martinet with myself, but I do have the uneasy feeling that I'm not tracking well. And the current of life runs so deep and swift, nowadays. I lose track for a bit, and I find myself fifty miles closer to the ocean.

I do like to bear in mind that even the weariest river winds somewhere safe to sea, not because I'm gloomy, but because it reminds me that things are both more and less important than they seem: there's a frame around the picture, endpapers to the book. More important because everything you put in is something else left out: less important because it's just one fleeting life among billions, quickly over and quickly forgotten.

So perhaps a little more time here, and a little more time reading Dickinson et al, and a little less over there on Facebook. And maybe I really should make up those pie charts and have a think about them.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Rat, Peach, Hypoglycemia

“Stop,” I said. “There's nothing to be gained.”

Martha left the quilt untouched, and stood back up. “You're right,” she said.

“Just open the door,” I said, but she couldn't just open the door. She had to take the curtain down from the bedroom door too, lest I trip. But then she opened the door. “And just get out of the way,” she said, speaking for me, and moved aside.

The quilt on the floor, where Kiki had been examining it most closely, lay half over a throw rug, giving me a glimmer of hope. I reached my gloved hands to the far side, rapidly bundled the quilt together, and lifted the whole of it up in the throw rug, a cradled bundle. Quickly but smoothly I trotted out of the room, out of the house, out into the depths of the yard. Dropped the bundle and lifted the quilt by one corner.

The edge of my eye glimpsed the rat in flight – a young one, I suppose, for she had an extraordinary length of tail, which curled and flew like a whiplash in a Disney cartoon. She ran like a squirrel, bound after bound, her tail describing elegant curves the while, and then vanished into the shrubbery toward the street. She was slender and black and beautiful: and she seemed improbably fit and sound, for a creature who had – presumably – been carried inside, through the open window, in Kiki's jaws.

The peach was not quite ripe: though sweet, it was dry and tart, more of a piece with its skin than a peach is supposed to be. And the sweet potato too, though I've gotten much better at microwaving tubers, was a little unsatisfactory. But the salad was good, and the chicken was salt but delicious. I was so hungry, when I got home. I'd let myself get hungry and stupid. Bad planning. But I stuck to it, and cooked, and ate real food. So there's that.

My client last night felt suddenly sick, at the end of the massage, and horribly thirsty. I helped him up and he took a couple steps and collapsed on the couch. I got him a drink. I didn't like the look of him at all: pale and sweating. I took his pulse. Strong and regular. (I didn't bother to count, I just wanted the reassurance of a good beat.) Asked him questions about how he felt, mostly to see if his speech was slurred: it wasn't. Then he measured his blood sugar with (to me, who had never seen it done before) incredible rapidity. 48. Good Lord. Coma range. Luckily – or rather prudently, luck had nothing to do with it – he had fruit handy, berries and an orange. I helped him walk to the kitchen to get them. Within a few minutes he was looking better, though he still felt horrible. By the time I left, his blood sugar was over a hundred, and his wife was with him. I'd never seen hypoglycemia before, though of course you learn about it in school. They tell you to have candy handy, in fact, because massage typically lowers blood sugar levels twenty points or so. (I have no idea why it does this, actually, or how. Ignorance.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wayfarers All

I start to think of traveling, of a journey of a few months, a there-and-back-again across the country. I'm like Bilbo and Frodo: autumn always puts me in mind of traveling. It's not time yet. At least a year away, probably more. I want to travel alone with my table, doing massage in return for a couch to sleep on and breakfast in the morning. Meeting people I've known in my cyberhood for years, but who are scattered hither and yon across the continent; and making at least one more long road trip across the North America. It's an indulgence, of course, environmentally speaking, to travel when you don't have to, but what's the point of living before peak-oil, if you don't bust loose every once in a while? Nothing I do or refrain from doing will stop the plunge. Travel of this sort may not be within the means of ordinary people very much longer.

Autumn: the autumn of the year, the autumn of my country, the autumn of my species. It's a good time for traveling.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Grave Robbers

Emily Dickinson with her friend Kate Turner. Amherst College Archives and Special Collections. See the article, with reasons for thinking the recently-surfaced daguerreotype authentic, here.

I have a double response to Dickinson: on the one hand admiration and empathy – admiration because she is probably the best American poet I have read, and empathy because I feel myself at a similar emotional & intellectual stand at this stage of my life, stymied in every generous endeavor – but on the other hand dismay: she is the most death-centered poet I have ever read. Keats, for all his self-indulgent “half in love with easeful death” turns, doesn't really want to die. Dickinson really does: she deliberately writes her way into the grave.

Or so it seems to me, at this moment of reading. I am no romantic: I don't believe in the redemptive power of poetry, or in its immortality. Clearly many people feel that Dickinson was somehow justified and translated by her posthumous fame. I feel, quite the contrary, that snuffling about in the private papers of an unhappy dead woman calls our own justification into question, and translates us into something like grave-robbers. Where is it written that being a great poet means you have no right to privacy? When we meet Dickinson, in the heaven she resolutely disbelieved in, will we be able to look her in the eye?
And Life is over there -
Behind the Shelf

The Sexton keep the key to -
Putting up
Our life - His porcelain -
Like a Cup -

Discarded of the Housewife -
Quaint - or Broke -

Monday, September 03, 2012

Ant by Moonlight

Monstrous that the moon should rise tonight,
bulge-headed, throwing

shadows without scale or increment:
in its light that a benighted traveler ant

should cross pools of gleaming motor oil,
his legs ticking

in an abominable
hail of photons –

even worse. What tyrant god
allows this home-wrecking,

this scouring floodlight, this bleaching breach
of peace? The Queen of Night is nailed up

by a few faint lyrical stars, helpless,
while the bloat of the moon

drifts through her kingdom:
day-creatures stutter on their shadows,

their eye-buds breathe in phosphor,
they taste

with their feet
the poisoned ground.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Embarrassing the Dog

Of 'shunning Men and Women' - they talk of Hallowed things, aloud - and embarrass my Dog

I'm pretty sure Emily Dickinson would have disliked me: I don't do it slant enough, and I would certainly have embarrassed her dog. Sorry, Emily.

I spoke when I should have been silent, yesterday. Tried to talk to a client about different ways of approaching chronic pain. It was the wrong time and I used the wrong words, and it was probably counterproductive, not to mention probably losing me a client. I've been reproaching myself steadily ever since. Of course, there were probably twenty times yesterday that I should have spoken and did not, but I don't get my face rubbed in the consequences of that.

Another broken night, awake at 2:30, filling in the time doing laundry (there is always laundry to do, if you're a massage therapist.) Light is beginning to show in the bands of sky between slats of the blinds, though the streetlight is still on. I might try getting a little more sleep. It's still an hour or two before anyone will wander down to open up a restaurant. It will be broad daylight by then, but you odd people will all still be in your beds, dreaming through the daytime. How do you do it?

Saturday, September 01, 2012


Percy Shelley and Emily Dickinson strike me as similar people, led each to his – her – own particular ruin, by the implications of he and she.

Italy stands the other side!
While like a guard between -
The solemn Alps -
The siren Alps
Forever intervene!

...wrote Dickinson, but Shelley could cross the Alps: and little enough luck, for himself or for others, would he find on the far side.