Three (piano) pieces in the shape of a what!!??

Everyone (I’d mark as unacceptable a student essay beginning with “everyone,” but I happen to know this is true of everyone) knows that experience of getting an idea in mind that will

John F. Francis (American, 1808–1886), Still Life with Pears

John F. Francis (American, 1808–1886), Still Life with Pears

not go away.

I’ve been wondering why Dr. Leslie P. Spelman, Director of the School of Music at the University of Redlands way back in the ‘60s, with whom I was lucky to study organ, chose The Mass of the Poor by Erik Satie for me to learn. Odd. But then, most of the music he chose for me was—as far as the standard repertoire for a college organ major goes—strange. He loved strange music himself. He had studied organ with Joseph Bonnet in Paris (I know he was there in 1934 because I have music of his inscribed “Paris, 1934”).

I have forgotten the details of the stories he told. He did not, of course, know Erik Satie (1866 – 1925), but he knew and studied with musicians who did (perhaps Bonnet himself). At any rate, the Satie Mass was in Dr. Spelman’s repertoire. He assigned it to me, he said, because it would give me a somewhat uncomplicated introduction to training a small choir and then playing and conducting from the organ console.

He also told me (as he quite often did when he assigned me an “out-of-the-mainstream” work) that someday I would understand.

The fact is, I’ve performed the Satie perhaps ten times since then. I love it.

I woke up this morning with the Mass of the PoorMesse des pauvres (orgue ou piano)—firmly in my mind, and it would not go away until I found the score and played a bit of it. Of course that made it worse. Now I believe I shall have the Kyrie in my mind until the day I die.

Satie was a wonderfully eccentric man, to all accounts. He lived in the pre-World War I Paris of artists and musicians such as Debussy, Braque, Picasso – and so on. He was somewhat older than that generation of innovators, so his music was seen (heard) mainly as strange. The (true) story is well-known that when critics complained his music had no form, he immediately composed “Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear” for two pianos.

I intended to record a couple of movements of the Messe this morning, but it would have taken longer than I have time for to work out how to make it sound well on the Steuart Goodwin Opus 1 in my living room. Here’s the first recording made of it, by Marilyn Mason. I was going to record the 4th and 5th movements.

A few days ago I went with a friend to Houston to the Museum of Fine Arts to see the exhibition of paintings of Georges Braque (1882-1963). Braque was a close associate of Picasso at the time the two of them were “inventing” cubism. I have loved his work for many years. I don’t remember where I first saw a work of his. But I have been fascinated by the paintings in which he included words. My favorite, of course, are those with the name “Bach” inhem. None of them is in the Houston show. It would be hard to say which of the paintings is my favorite. One of those is certainly “Violin and Pitcher.”

Braque. Guitar with Pitcher.

Braque. Guitar with Pitcher.

But the painting which haunts me still is his last. A painting of a piece of farm machinery, “The Cultivator.” He painted it in the year before he died. It is stark, dark, and hopeful. Don’t ask why I describe it as “hopeful.” I don’t know. But that’s the way I experienced it.

Satie wrote the Messe des Pauvres about 25 years before he died. It was not, however published until after his death. I don’t know why.

I seem to be saying “I don’t know” more often than usual. I don’t know why.

Except that I am finding I don’t know much about anything. Dr. Spelman used to tell me that someday I would understand. I think I am beginning to understand the Messe des Pauvres (as a matter of fact, I’m looking for a church where I can give a small recital and play it).

A wondrous mystery surrounds the last work of many artists and composers. Brahms, for example. His last work is unlike anything else he composed. Opus 122 is a collection of eleven chorale preludes for organ—about half of which are settings of hymn tunes having to do with death. Or Mozart. His last two works are The Magic Flute—an opera unlike any other he wrote, either in subject matter or in the style of the music. And his unfinished Requiem is his last work.

Bach’s last composition is an unfinished chorale prelude the title of which can be translated into English. “I am standing before God’s throne.”

The last four Beethoven String Quartettes have an intensity and a musical language more advanced than anything before them. And Verdi came out of retirement to compose Falstaff, his only comic opera.

I am not saying I think these artists had a premonition they would die soon. The mystery is far greater than that. I think it’s what Dr. Spelman meant when he kept telling me I would understand some day. I don’t understand yet. I’m only just beginning to understand what needs to be understood. Those artists and musicians understood. Ask me in a few years if I can explain what they understood.

Braque. The cultivator.

Braque. The cultivator.

“Auntie . . . told me I should travel slowly or I would see too much before I died . . .”

Delores De Rio. Size 4?

Delores De Rio. Size 4?

Being eternally and overwhelmingly ignorant has compensations. For example, every time I discover a poet I whose work I didn’t know, it seems as if they wrote a poem that morning, for me alone.

Case in point. I’ve been following Sandra Alcosser’s Auntie’s advice most of my life and didn’t know it. I do travel slowly. I have not travelled the world. I suppose by most people’s reckoning I’ve done quite a bit of travel. Mexico, Canada, Great Britain, the Channel Islands, France, Spain, Brazil. Jordan, and Palestine. All 48 of the “continental” states.

But as gay men go, those who have worked all their lives and have no one to care for except themselves so they have plenty of “disposable income,” I’ve been almost nowhere. I have friends who take two or three cruises a year.

I’ve never been on a cruise. For two reasons. I can’t imagine being on a ship in the middle of the ocean and unable to get off when I wanted to. Once the idea got into my head I wanted off the ship—NOW!—they’d have to sedate me or send a helicopter to airlift me out.  

And I’ve never had the money to travel. I’m not complaining or regretting (that’s not quite true) the particulars of my life. I’m solely responsible that I was a drunk until I was 41 and never had full-time work in my profession until I was 42. Exactly what Dean Anne Minton saw in me that allowed her to hire me to teach music at Bunker Hill Community College in spite of my résumé I will always wonder and be grateful.

I have “travel[ed] slowly [and] I [have not seen] too much.” I’ve spent almost a month in Palestine (including Gaza—not many Americans can say that). I spent three weeks in Brazil (one week in the Amazon Rain Forest)—4th of July on the Beach at Ipanema. I wrote about that a year ago, so I suppose I should simply make a link to that posting and be on my way writing about something else.

However, it’s amazing what a difference a year makes.

For one thing, Sandra Alcosser wrote “Hats” for me this morning. She’s a year older than I am, and was the first Poet Laureate of the State of Montana. Anyone who lives only 481 miles from Worland, WY, the first place I remember living, has to be OK. (Driving between the two small cities, you pass within about 40 miles of Yellowstone National Park—where I have also spent some slow travel time.) Especially when she was up early enough to write a poem for me this morning.

Auntie lies in the rest home with a feeding tube and a bedpan . . .
Surely this is not the place of women in our world, that when we are old and curled like crustaceans, young girls will laugh at us, point their fingers, run as fast as they can in the opposite direction
.

When I turned 30 years old, I was so cocky and pig-headed (and, well, drunk) I hardly noticed except that at some time earlier I had gotten it into my head that I’d die when I was 27, so I was surprised to be hitting 30. When I hit 40, I was in the deepest point of drinking and barely noticed—wanting to finish my PhD and have a good job like all of my friends.

I had a grand party at Jaxx Steak House in Farmers Branch, TX, for my 50th birthday, living with the man I loved, in graduate school again, this time studying writing, and playing the organ for a small church. I could hardly have imagined a better life. I had a grand party with friends for my 60th birthday under much different circumstances. I was professoring at SMU, still playing the organ for the small church, but alone because my partner had died of melanoma. It was a difficult birthday because I was lonely, not because I thought 60 was old or in any other way unpleasant.

My next birthday will be my 70th. I’m not particularly looking forward to it. I won’t, most likely, be like Sandra Alcosser’s Auntie, lying in the rest home with a feeding tube and a bedpan . . .  old and curled like [a crustacean]. No, if I follow my family’s genetic pattern, that won’t happen for about 20 more years.

I will be, however, “eternally and overwhelmingly ignorant.” By my next birthday I will have been retired for about six months. As that time approaches, it seems no matter what I do I’m travelling too fast, seeing too much before I die—but remaining ignorant of what much of it means or, more importantly, what to do about it.

Ginger Rogers in her Lilly Daché

Ginger Rogers in her Lilly Daché

It’s more important to decide what not to see than what I should see. I don’t need to see women’s health clinics in Texas closing because of the unscientific belief perpetrated on the American people about when human “life” begins. I don’t need to see the ignominy that 19% of Texans are functionally illiterate while state officials trumpet an “economic miracle.” I don’t need to see 27% of Texas children living in food insecurity while Senator Cruz rails about cutting government budgets.

I don’t need to see wars, rumors of war, and both imperialism and apartheid still (in the age of enlightenment?) basically controlling the world.

I don’t need to see climate change deniers winning seats in the US Congress.

“. . . would see too much before I died . . .” I suppose nearly everyone will. If we all see these things, why don’t they change? That’s not a “rhetorical question.” It’s the sad—and getting sadder—question of an almost-old man (Auntie will, I’m sure, share the idea with an old man) who has already, perhaps, seen too much.

“Hats,” by Sandra Alcosser

Auntie lies in the rest home with a feeding tube and a bedpan, she weighs nothing, she fidgets and shakes, and all I can see are her knotted hands and the carbon facets of her eyes, she was famous for her pies and her kindness to neighbors, but if it is true that every hat exhibits a drama the psyche wishes it could perform, what was my aunt saying all the years of my childhood when she squeezed into cars with those too tall hats, those pineapples and colored cockades, my aunt who told me I should travel slowly or I would see too much before I died, wore spires and steeples, tulled toques. The velvet inkpots of Schiaparelli, the mousseline de soie of Lilly Daché have disappeared into the world, leaving behind one flesh-colored box, Worth stenciled on the top, a coral velvet cloche inside with matching veil and drawstring bag, and what am I to make of these Dolores del Rio size 4 black satin wedgies with constellations of spangles on the bridge. Before she climbed into the white boat of the nursing home and sailed away–talking every day to family in heaven, calling them through the sprinkling system–my aunt said she was pushing her cart through the grocery when she saw young girls at the end of an aisle pointing at her, her dowager’s hump, her familial tremors. Auntie, who claimed that ninety pounds was her fighting weight, carried her head high, hooded, turbaned, jeweled, her neck straight under pounds of roots and vegetables that shimmied when she walked. Surely this is not the place of women in our world, that when we are old and curled like crustaceans, young girls will laugh at us, point their fingers, run as fast as they can in the opposite direction.

Her Elsa Schiaparelli mini top

Her Elsa Schiaparelli mini top

 

“. . . it is the movement that creates the form. “

A reference librarian at Fondren Library at SMU and I have been known to argue about my contention that, in doing research, students need to learn to be lazy. She says students must learn to be efficient. We both mean that students should keep track of their findings in research so they never have to retrace their steps—never have to look anything up more than once.

it is the movement that delays the form while darkness slows and encumbers

it is the movement that delays the form
while darkness slows and encumbers

Recently I discovered the poetry of Richard Howard (born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1929; professor of Writing at Columbia University in New York). His poem “Like Most Revelations (after Morris Louis)” is copied below.

I am going to drive to Houston this afternoon for an overnight stay to go to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts tomorrow for the exhibition of the paintings of Georges Braque (1881-1963). Braque was a close friend and associate of Picasso. His work was somewhat forgotten in the shadow of his preeminent friend. I learned about him at some time I’ve forgotten, and I’ve seen a couple of his paintings (perhaps the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). Or I’ve seen reprints in books. At any rate, I have visual memories of several of his paintings, and I want to see his work. Houston is the only American venue for this exhibition.

Looking online for information about the exhibition, I came across a bunch of stuff about previous exhibitions at the Houston MFA, and from there went looking online for paintings by Louis Morris (American, 1912-1962). I’m not sure why.

It may be that I remembered the poem by Richard Howard. I doubt it although I’ve read the poem several times trying to figure out what it is “about.” At any rate, I located pictures of some of Morris’s work online, and suddenly Howard’s poetry made perfect sense. Ah! Research.

It is the movement that incites the form,
discovered as a downward rapture—yes
. . .

The poem is hardly mysterious at all—the subject matter, at any rate.

Yesterday I went to Target for a bit of shopping. Don’t get squirrelly on me about shopping there. At least I didn’t give Alice Walton any of my money. Target is on my way home from the Landry Fitness Center. I needed cat food, and it’s the only place I can get the medium sized bag I like. I picked up a few “non-perishable” groceries I needed so I wouldn’t have to go to Kroger after I got home.

Georges Braque, Musical Instruments

Georges Braque, Musical Instruments

I was at the register, and the clerk and I chatted. The bill came to $70 and change. I slid my card “quickly” in the reader and entered my PIN. The little screen announced I’d entered the wrong PIN. I tried again, and the register told the clerk it could not complete my transaction. I tried again. Not. So we went to the next register with the same result. I was baffled (and getting more than a little annoyed) because I (for once in my life) had checked my balance online, and I knew my account had plenty of money.

I was thinking out loud what to do. Go home, check the balance, come back? go to the bank, get the cash, and come back? leave and go to Kroger to get cat food and not come back? I was, I suppose, obviously upset—but trying my level best to take the situation in stride. Anyone who knows me knows this is the sort of situation that simply baffles me, and I don’t take with aplomb.

The young woman behind me had her credit card in her hand, and said, “Here, let me do it.” No. I know there’s plenty of money on this card. “But it will be a hassle for you. Let me do it.” She handed her card to the clerk, and the transaction was done before I could protest again. I began crying and saying thank you, and she took my hand and said, “I’m happy to do it. Just pay it forward when you can.”

I’m sure the young woman thought I was a poor old man who suddenly didn’t have money to buy his groceries and was too proud to admit it. I’m sure she would have done the same thing for anyone in my situation.

(I drove straight to the bank and found out my account had plenty of money, but after the second ineffective attempt to enter my PIN, my account was automatically frozen. I am obviously an old(er) man, but I did—and do—have enough money to buy cat food and Grapenuts—by the way, did you know you can buy Peets coffee at Target?)

It is the movement of our lives that creates the form.

The movement of my life is altogether too often upset, and I’m seldom grateful.

The movement of that young woman’s life is to be generous—at least at times. My guess is she has done what she did before and will do it again.

I know I will—again and often—be inefficient or lazy about taking care of myself (I don’t know if I entered the PIN correctly or not, but I know I will be upset over nothing again).

. . . in fact
it is the movement that betrays the form,
baffled in such toils of ease, until
it is the movement that deceives the form,
beguiling our attention
. . .

Baffled in such toils of ease I am apt—no, guaranteed—to deceive the form I want for my life, calm, kind undeceived. I am vexed that I will, even as a old man—never learn to give (give up) [myself] to this mortal process of continuing.

The young woman, whose name I will never know, has already learned. Her graciousness, I am sure, touches the lives of many people—even those who don’t need or deserve, it . . . –yes, it is the movement that delights the form, sustained by its own velocity. 

“Like Most Revelations,” by Richard Howard      

(after Morris Louis)

It is the movement that incites the form,
discovered as a downward rapture–yes,
it is the movement that delights the form,
sustained by its own velocity.  And yet

it is the movement that delays the form
while darkness slows and encumbers; in fact
it is the movement that betrays the form,
baffled in such toils of ease, until

it is the movement that deceives the form,
beguiling our attention–we supposed
it is the movement that achieves the form.
Were we mistaken?  What does it matter if

it is the movement that negates the form?
Even though we give (give up) ourselves
to this mortal process of continuing,
it is the movement that creates the form.

. . . beguiling our attention--we supposed it is the movement that achieves the form.

. . . beguiling our attention–we supposed
it is the movement that achieves the form.

 

It IS all done with mirrors and wires, after all.

Yesterday I realized that I know how to teach writing to 19-year-olds.

Wrapped in a mantle of communication

Wrapped in a mantle of communication

It’s all done with mirrors and wires.

I mean that literally, not in the sense that it’s stage magic.

The teacher has to see himself if he’s a man, herself, if she’s a woman (see how ridiculous our phony reliance on a grammar that never really existed is? I should have the courage of my conviction and say, “The teacher has to see themself. . .) mirrored in the face of the student. More important, the teacher has to be transparent enough to allow the student to see themself mirrored in the teacher’s face.

That is, of course, almost impossible, and it happens—if the teacher is lucky beyond belief—about once a semester. It is, however, the moment a real teacher lives for.

The wires part is simpler. The teacher uses wires (or something kinder and more esthetically pleasing) to hold the student up long enough for the student to figure out on their own what makes their writing good. Not what the MLA or some other surreal body says is good writing. No. How students can correctly use enough of the (stultifying) conventions of writing to gather about themselves the mantle of a clear personal voice with which they can tell the world (or their lover or the university or their parents or . . .) what they want those folks to know. The mantle of a clear personal voice.

How’s that for a figure of speech as surreal as a Dali painting?

One wraps oneself in a mantle, of course, so you might be thinking, “How can one possibly ‘wrap oneself’ in something that is intended to communicate, not to hide?”

One’s voice, whether spoken or written, is, in fact meant to hide. Old people understand that, I think. We understand that communication is impossible. I don’t have any intention of telling you what’s really swirling in my head.

OK. I will.

I am grieving. Grieving the ending of my job in which I get daily to try to let a student see himself (the best parts of himself and the parts of me that are worthy of mirroring) mirrored in me. Kindness (once in a while). Generosity. Humility. Curiosity. (These things almost never, except for curiosity). I want my students to know they can stop judging themselves and reject the judgment of others—even the grades they assigned in class (grades intended to insure the failure of a certain percentage of students). I am grieving my loneliness. I do not want to end my days in a ratty, unkempt apartment (any apartment where I live alone will be unkempt) without companionship, without someone to watch over and to watch over me. I joy in my cats—stinky as their litter boxes sometimes are. I rejoice and thank the universe for my students. I love my family. I am hungry at the moment and my Grapenuts are soaking. I’m afraid of the final paycheck. I want sex (I said you didn’t want to know what’s swirling in my head). I fear Barak Obama has become one of the powerful elite out of touch with reality. I fear the US is responsible for the mess in The Ukraine as much as anyone—going back way before this administration (it’s The Ukraine, indicating a region, not a country with logical borders). I think the Dean who asked me to retire is a mousy little man. I’d like to get to the Landry Fitness Center today, but I can’t.

There. You think this writing is supposed to communicate all of that nonsense?

Of course not!

My writing is meant to hide my innards and communicate with you some semblance of order, fitness, and ability to cope with the world.

But it is not meant to be untrue. Or deceptive. Or mean. Or hurtful. Or. . .

Some people mantle themselves with a voice of humor. I cannot imagine the world without Tim Conway’s mantle. Some are poets. Can you imagine the word without Maxine Kumin’s mantle? Some people are composers. Can you imagine the world without Krzysztof Penderecki‘s mantle?

Someone to watch over her.

Someone to watch over her.

These are famous, highly developed mantles. I can’t imagine the world without yours. We communicate by hiding. We make symbols for what we mean. We mirror each other. We mirror ourselves.

It’s what makes us human. We don’t have to strike out at each other. We don’t have to weep uncontrollably (although some of us do that more than others). We don’t have to assault anyone sexually. We don’t have to . . .

We wrap ourselves in the mantle of symbolic communication. It’s how we survive. It’s how we say “love.”

The greatest joy of my life, and my best accomplishment if there is one, is my helping a few nineteen-year-olds begin to weave the mantle which will at the same time protect them and allow them to participate fully in their lives.

I want, I demand, I need more opportunity for that. I do not want to retire. At least not to stop teaching.

It has always made us human

It has always made us human

“. . . our people’s resilience and maturity will foil . . . insidious objectives. . .”

Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem

Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem

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.As I got on the elevator at the Magnolia Theater in Dallas, a gentleman asked me, “Does that really exist?” Incredulous! He was pointing to my t-shirt—from St. George College in Jerusalem. Yes, that Jerusalem.

Yes, it exists. It was established in 1920 as part of the cathedral complex of St. George Episcopal Cathedral, established in 1899.al-Aqsa-solomon-temple

Incredible!

I spent ten days there in 2003. Many people I know have spent time at St. George College.

It is but one of the Christian institutions in Jerusalem.

I have posted this blog for the sole purpose of asking you please to read the posting on my other blog, Sumnonrabidus, today.

Thank you.

.                   To the right, Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque

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Rt. Rev. Dr. Munib A. Younan, Lutheran Bishop of Jerusalem

Rt. Rev. Dr. Munib A. Younan, Lutheran Bishop of Jerusalem

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Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III leads the Easter Sunday mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III leads the Easter Sunday mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

“. . . the old fable-makers searched hard for a word . . .”

This morning the weather was –for an old man like, at any rate—brutal. 21 degrees when I arrived at my office. It warmed up to 33 or something like that by the end of the day. But the

Ice only by the driver's door of my car. With photographer's finger.

Ice only by the driver’s door of my car. With photographer’s finger.

weather is by any reckoning strange for Dallas.

And for everywhere else in this country, I think.

I had students one after the other in my office today for conferences on the next essay they have to write. Their assigned topic is the 1956 (that is, the real) Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Everyone knows the little speech by Dr. Miles Bennell,

In my practice, I’ve seen how people have allowed their humanity to drain away. Only it happened slowly instead of all at once. They didn’t seem to mind… All of us – a little bit – we harden our hearts, grow callous. Only when we have to fight to stay human do we realize how precious it is to us, how dear.

Only when we have to fight to stay human.

I had several student conferences that were quite enjoyable. Fortunately the best of the day was the last.

When I left, I went to my car and found that all of the ice in the parking lot had melted and evaporated during the day—except, of course, for the little patch by the driver’s side door of my car. I thought it was pretty funny so I took a picture (with the tip of my finger in it).

On the radio immediately when I turned it on driving home was news of the Ukraine. I have written in some detail about it, but I’m not going to copy any of that here. But I am bemused, saddened, grieving over the situation. Once again might is attempting to make itself to be the right.

But in the midst of all of this news, I had a private moment of grief. A good friend and former colleague was of Ukrainian heritage. In fact, he had relatives in Kiev and went every couple of years to visit them. This was about the time (1991) when the Soviet Union was collapsing, and my friend was ecstatic.

When I moved to Texas, I tried to keep in touch with him, but after the first exchange of emails, he simply stopped answering my messages (this was 1994 when academics were just beginning to use email habitually—compulsively—and the general public wasn’t yet online to any significant degree).

I have had moments of grief over the evaporation of my friendship with Phil. Somehow the situation in the Ukraine today has brought that grief to the surface of my memory and consciousness.

When I arrived home this afternoon, thinking about Phil and wondering where he is and if there is any way to contact him or anything to be gained by it, I remembered I needed to pay my rent. So I wrote a check and took it to the apartment offices. The assistant manager was not in her office, and a guy I had never seen before was in the manager’s office at his desk. I asked if Sharon (the assistant manager) was gone for the day, and the guy replied, “Sharon has retired.”

The last time I saw her was about a week ago when she brought me (to my door—not a usual service of the complex) a package of some books I had ordered that were published in Palestine and were shipped through Cyprus (don’t ask me). She said nothing about retiring. She and I had talked about my retiring several times. I knew nothing of her plans. I have sat in her office for hours on end, the two of us yakking like a couple of old farts. At least a couple of old friends.

And she has simply disappeared. The only way I know to reach her is at a desk which is no longer hers.

"Cascade" by Robert DiGiovanni, mutual friends with Phil and me.

“Cascade” by Robert DiGiovanni, mutual friends with Phil and me.

My cat Groucho hid from me when I came back to the apartment from delivering my rent check to someone I don’t know. Groucho hid because he has become frightened of me. You would be, too, I suppose, if I came at you with a syringe twice a day to give you an insulin shot. Especially if you had no idea—could have no idea—that it was keeping you alive.

Today. Phil. Sharon. Groucho. I’m sensing loss so keenly I can scarcely imagine it, much less let myself feel it. More and more these days.

Growing old—I’m not old yet, but I’m headed there—means learning to say goodbye daily. We learn that  “what is gone is gone forever and never found. . .”

If that is good or if that is bad, I don’t know yet. If I find out before it’s too late, I’ll let you know. In the meantime the Irish poet Eavan Boland (*) says something akin to what I want to say. She won’t mind if I quote her, I’m sure. She is, by the way, one year older than I.

“Atlantis—A Lost Sonnet,”  by Eavan Boland      

How on earth did it happen, I used to wonder
that a whole city—arches, pillars, colonnades,
not to mention vehicles and animals—had all
one fine day gone under?

I mean, I said to myself, the world was small then.
Surely a great city must have been missed?
I miss our old city —

white pepper, white pudding, you and I meeting
under fanlights and low skies to go home in it. Maybe
what really happened is

this: the old fable-makers searched hard for a word
to convey that what is gone is gone forever and
never found it. And so, in the best traditions of

where we come from, they gave their sorrow a name
and drowned it.
__________
(*) Eavan Boland was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1944.
She has taught at Trinity College, University College, Bowdoin College, and she was a member of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. She is also a regular reviewer for the Irish Times. Boland is professor of English at Stanford University where she directs the creative writing program.

“. . . hearty Laugher and name rememberer, Proud me . . .”

Stuart Dischell was born in 1954, which makes him 60. Hardly old enough to be thinking about what he used to be.

My little job as shipping clerk

My little job as shipping clerk

When people say they miss me,
I think how much I miss me too,
Me, the old me, the great me,
Lover of three women in one day,
Modest me, the best me . . .
(1).

Poor guy. Wait nine years and see how much he misses of himself. He won’t remember half his list. In some box of the stuff I’ve kept over the past 45 or 50 years, I have a photo of myself lying on the floor on an oriental rug. My late ex-wife took it to haunt me. I fell asleep drunk. Again. The photo is one of my favorites, not because I remember the rollicking good time but because it’s not possible to tell I’m drunk. I look like a healthy 25-or-so-year-old graduate student.

We had not yet entered the phase of love beads and hair/beard not trimmed for a year and brownies that now would be legal in Colorado. When people from California, Iowa, or Boston or St. Paul Lutheran Church in Farmers Branch, TX, say they miss me, that boyish guy lying on the floor is whom they miss, in my mind. Never mind he was drunk and sans PhD. Or many other accomplishments I’ve learned to value over the years.

Note I did not say the accomplishments were valuable, but that I valued them. Some were of value, but most of less value than I paced on them.

Fortunately, I don’t remember—I assume—much (most?) of what I’ve done that is of real value. If I did, I’d “think of [myself] more highly than [I] ought to think, [rather than to] think with sober judgment,” as frumpy old St. Paul said in Romans 12. I remember–not as “accomplishment” but as simple experience—too much scripture for my own good. My mother quoted that Bible sentence to hold over my head so it would not swell inappropriately. Thanks, Mom.

A bit of sarcasm. I thank her for that in the same way I thank her that whenever someone says “Dr. Knight,” I look over my shoulder to see to whom they are speaking. My PhD still sits uneasy.

Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude;
And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then, happy low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a [PhD]

(Shakespeare, William. History of Henry IV, Part II. III.1)

Lest anyone think I think I don’t deserve my PhD, I hasten to say that’s not what I mean. Those three years of seminars, that intense study for qualifying exams, and the 367-page dissertation were my accomplishments, no one else’s, and they are the required hoops through which one jumps to be called “Doctor.” Just as getting old is now my full-time job, so were those hoops between 1974 and 1988. Fourteen years? you ask incredulously.

Helping people live by testing their blood

Helping people live by testing their blood

I wish I knew the name of the Dean of the Graduate College at the University of Iowa in 1987—and if he is still alive. I’d like to say “thank you” to him F2F. By the time I was ready to take my qualifying exams, I had been away from the program physically—I was in Massachusetts by then—and chronologically—it had been more than the seven years allowed to finish after residency without taking many seminars again.  The Dean allowed me to finish—to write my dissertation and defend it—because I told him I’d finally sobered up, and several people—including the Rector of the church where I directed the music—wrote letters of support. I did the work, but my PhD is something as a gift.

I don’t remember if I’ve written about that before. After all, this is the 633rd posting I’ve made in my two blogs since September, 2009 (about one every other day). I read those earlier postings now and think, “Who wrote this?” Not because they are such bad (or good) writing, but because I can’t believe I ever knew or thought most of what’s in them.

This morning at 4:30 when I got up, a small group of men were down in the street finishing a job they began yesterday. Apparently repairing a water main leak or some such heavy, unpleasant (and thankless) work. Last night water gysered from the hole they had dug in the street for quite awhile. When I looked out this morning, the gushing had stopped and the hole was nearly filled. In the time I’ve been writing they have finished the job and taken away the machinery.

I wonder if those workmen will bring their grandchildren to this corner and say, “This is where I helped keep the water supply of Dallas flowing on March 1, 2014.”

I’m not someone who flails about talking about the value of good hard work. I’ll leave that to Bill Maher (whose job hardly keeps Dallas—or any other city—in running water). However, I know that my little jobs as shipping clerk at the (now disappeared!) Kaiser Steel plant in Fontana, CA, and as a night shift technician in a lab at L.A. County Hospital, while I hated them at the time, are an important part of “Me, the old me, the great me.” Not the kinds of things Stuart Dishell calls up from his memory. I’ve had plenty of those, too. (Three men, however, not three women, and never handsome and hirsute In soccer shoes and shorts.)

Those jobs, as clearly as my PhD studies, are my preparation for being a

Fellow trembler to the future,
Thin air gawker, apprehender
Of the frameless door.

I’m nine years closer to the “frameless door” than Dishell. Who, by the way, also has a graduate degree from the University of Iowa.

Days of Me,” by Stuart Dischell

When people say they miss me,
I think how much I miss me too,
Me, the old me, the great me,
Lover of three women in one day,
Modest me, the best me, friend
To waiters and bartenders, hearty
Laugher and name rememberer,
Proud me, handsome and hirsute
In soccer shoes and shorts
On the ball fields behind MIT,
Strong me in a weightbelt at the gym,
Mutual sweat dripper in and out
Of the sauna, furtive observer
Of the coeducated and scantily clad,
Speedy me, cyclist of rivers,
Goose and peregrine falcon
Counter, all season venturer,
Chatterer-up of corner cops,
Groundskeepers, mothers with strollers,
Outwitter of panhandlers and bill
Collectors, avoider of levies, excises,
Me in a taxi in the rain,
Pressing my luck all the way home.

That’s me at the dice table, baby,
Betting come, little Joe, and yo,
Blowing the coals, laying thunder,
My foot on top a fifty dollar chip
Some drunk spilled on the floor,
Dishonest me, evener of scores,
Eager accepter of the extra change,
Hotel towel pilferer, coffee spoon
Lifter, fervent retailer of others’
Humor, blackhearted gossiper,
Poisoner at the well, dweller
In unsavory detail, delighted sayer
Of the vulgar, off course belier
Of the true me, empiric builder
Newly haircutted, stickerer-up
For pals, jam unpriser, medic
To the self-inflicted, attorney
To the self-indicted, petty accountant
And keeper of the double books,
Great divider of the universe
And all its forms of existence
Into its relationship to me,
Fellow trembler to the future,
Thin air gawker, apprehender
Of the frameless door.

A hard night's work

A hard night’s work