“. . . deep calls to deep, a saving breath. . .” (Susan Palo Cherwin)

I cannot begin to explain the levels of grief associated with this picture.

I cannot begin to explain the levels of grief associated with this picture.

“Love” for animals is a concept many people don’t understand. I put the word in quotes because many people would say it can be used only theoretically, not as fact. I am neither offended nor challenged by anyone who would say the word belongs in quotes because it cannot be real.

In 1957 Kleenex aired a series of TV ads for paper napkins starring Manners the Butler. Kleenex was in a race with Scott to establish market leadership in paper napkins, and they produced the clever “special effects” ad with Manners the Butler as a tiny man helping a housewife set an orderly table.

My first cat, when I was in 5th grade, 1957, was mostly black with a white chest, and I called him Manners the Butler. He was a gentleman cat who knew what he liked and was intolerant of what he didn’t like. He liked me. He arrived at our house when a school friend’s cat had kittens, and my friend convinced me to take one home. In my jacket pocket so my parents wouldn’t see it until it was too late to refuse to let him stay. He lived with us (indoors/outdoors) for about five years.

Manners knew all of my secrets—including the seizures I was having that no one knew about or (parents and doctors) could figure out. He knew when I was happy and when I was sad.

Many years later I broke up with my partner and bought a condo in Salem, MA, and was living alone. Since the time of Manners, except when I was living in a college dorm and not permitted, I had always had at least one cat. When I broke up with my partner, I left three cats behind, one—my favorite—all black and named Otello (the other two were Lohengrin and Brunhilde).

I was debating whether or not to get a cat, and my therapist asked me to describe my relationship with cats over the years. He told me I had definitely used cats as “Therapy Units,” and that getting a cat would give me many TU’s. I found two black and white brothers at the pound, named them Henry and Oliver, and took them home. Both of them lived with me until 2004.

They, and all the cats (and dogs) who have lived with me have definitely been at the very least TU’s, but in reality something much more important.

Christmas over Mount Tamalpais, Mill Valley, CA, 2014

Christmas over Mount Tamalpais, Mill Valley, CA, 2014

Whether or not it is possible or appropriate to use the word “love” for my feelings about my cats, I’m not going to theorize. Anyone who has felt what I have felt for cats (or dogs, or pigs, or parrots) knows exactly what I mean. Anyone who hasn’t had those feelings doesn’t know and can’t be persuaded. The epistemology of the concept is personal. Knowing or not knowing is not cause for judgment. It simply is.

When my cat Groucho died on December 20, I felt grief—not the grief I felt when my parents or brother-in-law or my lover died, but real grief. And here’s the important reality about that: one of my spiritual mentors tells me that every grief reminds us of all the griefs we have experienced before.

In his little essay, “To Go Its Way in Tears: Poems of Grief,” on the website Poets.org, the poet Edward Hirsch calls attention to our societal penchant to

. . . live in a superficial, media-driven culture that often seems uncomfortable with true depths of feeling. Indeed, it seems as if our culture has become increasingly intolerant of that acute sorrow, that intense mental anguish and deep remorse which may be defined as grief.

This is not an unfamiliar concept, but I like the succinctness of Hirsch’s language.

When Groucho died, I experienced a bit of self-condemnation for feeling as deeply as I did (do) about the emptiness left in my life by the loss of one long-haired basically aloof little creature who—truth be told—like all cats, one could not say returned the “love” I felt (feel) for him.

Anyone who celebrates Christmas (today is the 6th day, remember), either as the “Holly Jolly” secular materialistic orgy or as the “O Holy Night” of sentimental religiosity will probably wonder what’s wrong with me that I’m writing about grief at this time of year.

Well, duh! My little companion died.

As did Michael Brown, Rafael Ramos, Eric Garner, and Liu Wenjin.

Even though I have little (no) belief in the “Christmas Story” anymore, I think the rhythm of the church’s liturgical year offers a glimpse of reality that we might well take to heart. The day after Christmas is the Feast of St. Stephen, when the focus is on doing exactly what the Baby Jesus grew up to preach—feeding the hungry. December 28 is the Feast of the Holy Innocents commemorating Herod’s murder of all the baby boys in Bethlehem—a reminder of the horrors of lust for power (a reminder we are in process of ignoring at our own peril—as well as the peril of the innocents around us).

A friend once asked me what loving cats (dogs, pigs, parrots) does for me. My answer was (and is) simple. I understand my own mortality by living with and watching my pets through the cycles of their lives. And, when I pay attention, I understand that even my own death will be natural and blessed.

The hymnal of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has—amazingly—a section of “lament.” One of those hymns, by Susan Palo Cherwin, seems to me a proper understanding of Christmas. I’m not sure about the “song,” the “tears,” and the “love” of “God,” but I know, without doubt, that facing and feeling the darkness of my life is necessary to arrive at feeling “Merry” about anything.

That darkness increases as I age. So does the merriment—but transformed into reality as opposed to giddiness or frivolity.

In deepest night, in darkest days,
when harps are hung, no songs we raise,
when silence must suffice as praise,
yet sounding in us quietly
there is the song of God.

When friend was lost, when love deceived,
Dear Jesus wept, God was bereaved;
So with us in our grief God grieves,
and round about us mournfully
there are the tears of God.

When through the waters winds our path,
around us pain, around us death;
deep calls to deep, a saving breath
and found beside us faithfully
there is the love of God.

Words: Susan Palo Cherwin (b. 1963)
Music: Thomas Pavlechko (b. 1962)
From Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006)

If you want to hear how the understanding of the darkness “lightens” with age, you can compare my playing here with my playing the same tune a slight two years ago. I think the difference is stunning.

Groucho, not Marx, my friend

groucho 003My boy Groucho died this morning.
He was soft, gentle, a diabetic who complained only about his shots.But afterwards I’d brush him and he’d purr.

Does one love a cat?
I think so, but that’s question for philosophers.
I love(d) Groucho.

Here’s a cat poem that makes me happy every time I read it. Mary Oliver’s cat did not look like Groucho. Her cat was a girl, Groucho was a boy. But I think our understanding of cats is similar.

Morning

Mary Oliver

Salt shining behind its glass cylinder.
Milk in a blue bowl. The yellow linoleum.
The cat stretching her black body from the pillow.
The way she makes her curvaceous response to the small, kind gesture.
Then laps the bowl clean.
Then wants to go out into the world
where she leaps lightly and for no apparent reason across the lawn,
then sits, perfectly still, in the grass.
I watch her a little while, thinking:
what more could I do with wild words?
I stand in the cold kitchen, bowing down to her.
I stand in the cold kitchen, everything wonderful around me.

from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston

RIP Groucho.

“. . . as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor decided to retire. . .” (Billy Collins)

OCD - any table clth will do for hiding

OCD – any table cloth will do for hiding

The other day I Googled “poems about aging” just to see what I would find.

It was a pretty depressing lot.

Now look. I’m not any more depressed than I was 20 years ago. Which ain’t sayin’ much. Yesterday afternoon after I taught my funny little class of adult ESL students—our reading from the news for the day was about that absurd Burger King Japan “black burger,” and we laughed together for an hour—and exercised at the fitness center, and felt just fine, I went to the supermarket and halfway through my shopping, something squeezed itself into my mind, and I wanted to cry.

Now look. Don’t give up on me yet. This is not same-song-100th-verse.

Here’s what’s different. I realized there was so much I wanted to get done yesterday that accomplishment was hopeless. The day could not ever have had enough hours. And that prompted my mind (not my brain—that’s what’s depressed) to think about setting some priorities

that’s an absurd phrase: if something is a priority, that means it comes before everything else, the “first concern” or “taking precedence,” so you can’t set “some” priorities—there can be only one item, idea, task, one whatever that’s the “first”

for the rest of this semester. Still thinking in semesters? The seven athletes I will tutor today for their required “Discovery and Discourse” classes are in the middle of the “semester,” so I guess I am, too. Truth be told, most of them are in the middle of the football season, and that is the real organizing principle of their lives.

So organizing my thinking by the semester makes sense because my schedule for the week is organized around those athletes’ lives.

This week I’ve added the necessity for practicing the organ for playing three services at the second largest Episcopal church in America (it used to be first, but a church in Houston has surpassed it in membership). THREE services on one day. Fortunately, the music for two of them is identical, and the third I will play on my favorite little intimate tracker-action instrument.

All of that—I know—seems much too mundane to be writing about here. Boring. Who cares what my schedule is?

Anyone who is “retired” knows what I’m talking about, I think. There’s all of this stuff to do and no time to do it. That used to be called “stress” or something, and we all simply coped with it. Now it’s called “OMIGOD, what happens if I die tomorrow and all this stuff isn’t finished?” That was never of much concern until August 1, 2014. There was always next week. Some stuff could be delayed simply because it wasn’t that important. Some stuff could be delayed simply because it could be delayed.

Last week sometime I received a voice mail message from some guy in Arizona who identified himself as the representative for my retirement fund saying it is imperative that I call him so decisions can be made about how I want to use the money—annuity, reinvestment, monthly withdrawals. You know.

An old-guy poet

An old-guy poet

I haven’t called him back.

Which is not unusual for me. It’s the sort of thing I’ve always been able to ignore—no, it’s the kind of detail I simply can’t wrap my mind around and get done. I’m not making excuses but simply saying the day he called I was in a state not only of dissociation but physical dizziness. It’s a wonderful experience to feel out of body, creeping through the day feeling as if nothing is real, and then suddenly my head that isn’t real spins around while I’m walking, so the most real thing I feel all day is stumbling and not-quite falling. So he called me about taking care of myself for the rest of my life, and all I can do is tell myself that I really must call him back now that my head isn’t spinning.

But I have to do this (write) first today. Then I have to tutor straight through for 9 to 4. Then I have an appointment with one of my doctors to talk about this spinning, and then I have to practice the organ until it’s time to go to a meeting.

I could barely keep that kind of schedule when I was 40.

So here I am, too old to have any fun (that’s absolutely NOT true) and working harder and being busier than I was just three months ago before I retired.

My cat Chachi (the snowshoes) had to go to the vet yesterday because he’s been scratching fur off his legs. It’s happened before. Some skin irritation. A little prednisone and an antibiotic and he’ll be just fine. But this time the vet says he’s bit OCD. OCD?!

I guess living with me has become more stressful than it used to be. And I’m supposed to be enjoying life in my twilight years.
Right. Maybe all those sad poems about aging are right—not because it’s sad to think about the end creeping (or rushing) up on me, but because I really don’t have time to “invite my soul” (thank you, Walt Whitman) until then.

My favorite of those poems about aging. Not sad. I’ve posted it here before. It really has nothing to do with what I’ve written above. I just like it.

“Forgetfulness,” by Billy Collins (b. 1941 –a real contemporary)

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

No time to invite my soul

No time to invite my soul

“. . . the forest beast could not abide the holy booming of Cybele. . .”

Cybele and her ox-eating lion

Cybele and her ox-eating lion

When I was a kid my Baptist preacher dad gave a Wednesday evening prayer meeting Bible study on Galatians. When he explained Galatians 5:12, my ears perked up and my memory went into high gear.

“I would they were even cut off which trouble you” (Galatians 5:12, KJV). Dad explained that “they” were exactly two in number. How could a pubescent (gay) boy ever forget Dad’s further explanation that it meant “I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves” (NRSV)?

He explained the New Testament debate whether or not a man had to be circumcised to become a Christian. I’ve remembered ever since the New Testament version of “Go f- – – yourself,” which is “Go castrate yourself!” The Baptist preacher in the ‘50s explained this to the small but faithful band at Prayer.

These days, I don’t remember much, but I remember Dad’s Galatians lesson. Years ago I discovered the NT debate took place in the context of the cult of Cybele in Galatia with the earth-mother goddess Cybele and her cadre of “Corybants” dancing around her, men who were castrated (“eunuchs”) so nothing untoward could happen between them and the earth mother even if they were out-of-control.

One of the dangers of trying to write about one’s inner experience is that such writing can quickly degenerate into exhibitionism, self-pity, self-loathing, terror—a few of the less than desirable outcomes of self-revelation.
I question my motives when I write about what proper people do not talk about in public. Am I trying to shock? Am I looking for pity? validation? because I’m willing to expose myself and try to be honest? I continue to write here about my experiences in a way that could be described as exhibitionism or a confusion of immodest self-display for candor. I might be a Corybant dancing wildly in “licentiousness” (a word Dad taught us from the Bible).

Much as I would like it to be so, I don’t have Greek poetry floating in my head to pull out whenever I need it. I was trying to find a word to use for being wild and out-of-control, and my thesaurus recommended the old word I hadn’t thought of for years, “corybantic” (frenzied; agitated; unrestrained).

So, just for fun, I tried to find a hymn to Cybele—thinking there must be Ancient Greek ritual texts that would say something close to what I wanted to write.

An ox-eating lion came to the cave-mouth;
with the flat of his hand he struck the great timbrel he was carrying,
and the whole cave rang with the din:
the forest beast could not abide the holy booming of Cybele
and raced quickly up the forested mountain,
afraid of the goddess’ half-woman servant—
who hung up for Rheia these garments and yellow locks.
— —Stesichorus, Fragment 59 (trans. Campbell, Greek Lyrics Vol. III) (7th to 6th B.C.)

(Note: “half-woman servant” is a eunuch; “Rheia” is a more ancient name for Cybele.)

You see, it’s like this. Last Sunday I played the organ for the evening Eucharist at the church I belong to (and which I attend when they ask me to substitute at the organ). I was on something of a high when I finished. I love the chapel organ at the church, and I played extremely well, and all the music was wonderful stuff.

Her eunuchs, wild and out-of-control

Her eunuchs, wild and out-of-control

Monday morning I had an appointment with my orthopedic surgeon at 8:10. Before I left home, I had to give my cat Groucho his twice-daily insulin injection. He hates it—of course—and knows somehow, no matter how sneaky I try to be, when it’s coming, and he runs away. We had a tussle just before I left home, and I was nearly in tears. I hate that he is afraid of me. I grieve it.

I should have known being elated Sunday evening and frustrated less than 12 hours later was a recipe for disaster. I had allowed plenty of time but got caught in traffic on the way to the doctor’s office and when I tried to call to say I was on my way the answering machine said they didn’t open until 8:30 but I was supposed to be there at 8:10 who the fuck were they jerking around and I passed the exit to the hospital and took the wrong one then I was lost—how do you lose a hospital?—and ended up driving through Texas Instruments and realized I was in trouble when I was going 70 MPH on a residential street that was a dead-end and I had no idea where I was.

Screaming, crying blindly. Over the edge. Wild and out-of-control.

I won’t belabor the point. It ended without my injuring myself or others, and with my doctor’s care. But it took me two days to calm down, and writing about it now, I have tightness in my chest and want to cry again.

One of my projects of the last fifteen years has been to try to discover how my moods are coupled and what happens to send me into a wild and out-of-control state. I try never to think about these things on my own. My mind is like a bad neighborhood—I should never wander in there alone.

So my psychiatrist tells me anger management classes will not help me. That I must learn to understand that my “manic states [are] predominantly characterized by an emotional coupling between happiness and anger/fear” (Carolan, Louise A., and Mick J. Power. “What Basic Emotions Are Experienced In Bipolar Disorder?.” Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy 18.5 (2011): 366-378).

I know no one wants to hear about this, but I must time and time again wrestle this demon. It seems as mysterious as

. . . the whole cave rang with the din:
the forest beast could not abide the holy booming of Cybele
and raced quickly up the forested mountain . . .

Ancient Greek religion can be as useful as any other.

How can you lose a hospital?

How can you lose a hospital?

“. . . 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.

“. . . the old fellow in front of me dropped his glasses . . .”

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) wrote my kind of poetry.

My kind of poet.

My kind of poet.

Not very elegant. Crass, even, by many poetry lovers’ standards. Doesn’t rhyme, doesn’t have a rhythm recognized by the regular repetition of “feet” either iambs or amphibrachs or dispondees, and it often doesn’t even have images either similes or metaphors or personifications. Almost seems like, as far as what we learned about poetry in high school goes, we should pay no attention to the man behind the INK SPOTS.

Why on earth should I remember this song when I remember so little pop culture? (Not a “rhetorical question.” There’s no such thing. I tell my students if they know the answer to the question, it’s disingenuous to ask it, and, if they don’t, they have no business asking it to make a point.) My mother must have sung it. Several covers of the song exist, but this is definitely the version I remember. Somewhere along the line I knew (because some vocal-major friend sang it when I was in college, perhaps) the tune was the semi-classical song “Mattinata” by Leoncavallo, composer of the opera Pagliacci, which everyone knows.

I did not remember all of these details, I will confess. I had to look them up. I remembered the song, but the rest were vague 69-year-old’s snatches of memory. Some years ago researching them was what musicologists did, but nowadays with Google and Wikipedia, anyone can do this kind of arcane research.

Dr. Robert Nelsen used to refer to “the squiggles on the page.” That was when he was a professor of creative writing at the University of Texas at Dallas and not a college president. I don’t think Robert ever had us read any of Charles Bukowski’s work. Right. We were studying fiction writing with Robert.

ink spots—squiggles on the page—“You’re Breaking My Heart”—MattinataPagliacci—Robert Nelsen—Charles Bukowski. How’s that for a train of thought?

“Helping the old,” by Charles Bukowski

I was standing in line at the bank today
when the old fellow in front of me
dropped his glasses (luckily, within the
case)
and as he bent over
I saw how difficult it was for
him
and I said, “wait, let me get
them. . . “
but as I picked them up
he dropped his cane
a beautiful, black polished
cane
and I got the glasses back to him
then went for the cane
steadying the old boy
as I handed him his cane.
he didn’t speak,
he just smiled at me.
then he turned
forward.
I stood behind him waiting
my turn.

(Bukowski, Charles. “Helping the Old.” You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense. New York: HarperCollins: 2002.)

If I were a real English professor, I’d have you analyze first—uh, I don’t know where we’d start. Here’s where I’d start by myself. When the old fellow in front of me.

when the óld

féllow

in frónt

of mé

Well now, it does have a regular rhythm. de-de-dum, dum-de, de-dum, de-dum. If Bukowsi had used the first word that came to mind—as you and I would have—“man,”—the stanza would not scan. Read it with “man” instead of “fellow.” OK, class, that’s boring as hell. Let’s get on with the analysis. Oh! That’s all. That’s the extent of my analysis.

You’ll say that any writing or speech in English has a regular meter. Yep. And the best writing unintentionally follows something like unrhymed iambic pentameter (which we all know from Shakespeare). Why do you suppose all those Renaissance and Elizabethan poets used it? It’s the way we talk. Prove me wrong.

But not all writing or speech creates an image. That’s what makes poetry.

The old fellow in front of me. I’ve seen that old fellow—as you have—a thousand times. I see him in the mirror every time I brush my teeth. Fortunately my hip has healed perfectly, and I no longer have the cane. I bought You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense some time ago because the Publishers Clearing House blurb said it was poems about Bukowski’s cats and his childhood. Some are, some aren’t.

But here’s the deal. This poetry is not simply prose put into short lines. I’m moderately good at writing prose, but here’s my sorry attempt (and I’m not fishing for compliments like,

The banks are supposed to look

The way banks are supposed to look

“Oh, no, your attempt is not sorry”) to answer Bukowski’s poem from the old man’s POV. This entire post is a stream of (almost) consciousness that’s old man thinking. I’ve probably thought this way all my life, but I’m here to tell you that the older you get (at any rate, the older I’ve gotten) the more you (or I) hold onto these strings of ideas. They may not go anywhere, but they’re mine, and it’s comforting to be able to encapsulate them in writing. I’ve been working at this “poem” for three days. Hardly seems worth it.

“Being helped when old,” by Harold Knight

That young blade
watches every
move. 
He doesn’t think
how it is
to be old.
Damn! The
floor.
Why the fuck
can’t you be careful,
old man?
Break those glasses
and pay for more.
Don’t help much
anyway.
Thanks, man.
The cane!
That damned cane.
Does he guess
how mortifying
this is?
Struck dumb.
Get that idiotic grin
off
your
face.

I’m not yet at the point of thinking about what it’s like to die (at least not thinking about it all the time). But when I’m ready, it’ll probably go something like this. Poem with cats.

“1990 Special,” by Charles Bukowski

year-worn
weary to the bone,
dancing in the dark with the
dark,
the Suicide Kid gone
gray.

ah, the swift summers
over and gone
forever!

is that death
stalking me
now?

no, it’s only my cat,
this
time.

(Bukowski, Charles. “1990 Special.” The People Look Like Flowers at Last. New York: HarperCollins Publishers [Echo], 2007.)

only my cat, this time

only my cat, this time

 

I didn’t have time to write anything this morning, and that makes me crazy!

Frantic. That’s a fairly apt description.

Steampunk, anyone?

Steampunk, anyone?

I have to leave home in an hour. My paper grading is finished. I am more or less ready for class. We are going to discuss how Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story “The Body Snatcher” does not fit Flannery O’Connor’s definition of the “grotesque.” Hint: O’Connor says everything in a grotesque story could possibly happen. The writer of the grotesque, however, leans away from the “probable.” That is, it’s possible Parker’s tractor could explode when he isn’t paying attention and runs head-on into a tree, but it’s not probable—especially that his burning shoes would go flying off him in order to complete the image of the voice from the burning bush, “Take off your shoes; this is holy ground.” No one these days writes anything nearly as bizarre as O’Connor did.

Stevenson had to rely on the “other-worldly” to make his story grotesque. The corpse of an old lady turns into the corpse of a young man whom the body snatchers knew and whose body was dismembered and dissected by a medical school class. Right. Nowhere nearly as grotesque as Sarah Ruth beating Parker nearly senseless because he doesn’t get her Christianism.

So, you see, I’m ready to lead the discussion in my classes. I’m actually going to have them pair-up and write a debate on the question, “Stevenson’s story follows O’Connor’s definition of the grotesque.”

By the way, how much Steampunk literature do you know? Just thought I’d ask my (obviously erudite and educated readers). There. That’s O’Connoresque. The writer of the grotesque will leave strange gaps and skips in the narrative that most writers would fill in. Is this a short story, an essay, a frantic bit of hypergraphia? Doesn’t matter. What logic did I leave out (skip) in getting from a debate about Stevenson and O’Connor to Steampunk, the definition of which most of my readers don’t know (gap).

I’ve been writing something that I think can only be called a Steampunk short story, but I don’t think I can ever finish it. And a poem with the image of the water-faucet in my bathroom as a stainless steel bird. That’s how far from the probable my thinking is today.

I’m just glad I’m not Peyton Manning this morning.

Joanie loves Chachi (and her box is clean)

Joanie loves Chachi (and her box is clean)

His frenzy (the noun form of frantic if you write it correctly) must be worse than mine. He’s lost the prerogative of deciding whether or not his opponent should die in the gladiatorial ring. That’s not so bad, of course except that his opponent won the right to decide that about him. I suppose that’s a bit ghoulish for what actually happened yesterday. The only real physical disaster ensuing from the “game” is most likely a concussion or two. But who’s keeping track of the senile old (at 45) former football players running around? All that will happen to me as a result of my frantic morning is that eventually it’s possible (not probable, thank you Flannery) that I could end up in Zale Lipshy’s mental health unit because no one wants me to be out on the streets when I’m in the middle of a rapid cycling mode. Which I guess I am because the cat litter boxes are already scooped out, my lunch is packed, the papers I needed to read are read, and I’ve got a plan for my day which will probably not be followed (followed by whom? I’d ask a student who wrote that passive sentence; does your clause have a subject?).

I just now started to put the coffee grounds in the cone without the filter and caught myself just in the nick of time (how does time have a “nick,” anyway?), and that was because I was pouring the milk (Silk) onto my Grapenuts at the same time because I have to eat something before I take my meds so I won’t be dizzy all day. And all of that interrupted by running into the bedroom (well, the sleeping area—this is, after all, a loft, and I have no “rooms” per se) to see if I really should have done laundry yesterday instead of waiting around to hear Renee Fleming sing the national anthem (at least she sang only the official notes, even if she stretched the rhythm a bit here and there). And, no, I don’t have a shirt to wear.

And all of that frenzy/franticness is the result of my waking up about an hour later than usual and not having enough time to write anything before I have to go to class. And that will leave me about crazy all day long. At least these days I can immediately look back on the last hour and remember what I’ve been doing. I’ll bet there’s hardly a person alive (there’s no person alive) who has ever seen me at the top of the cycle. You, if you know me in real life and not just here in cyberspace (does anyone know anyone in real life anymore or is it all cyber? are you a cyberanyone to me?) probably would be a little surprised to see me running around like this wishing I had time to write something.

So now it’s too late, and I have nothing written although I had a lot I wanted to say about the Super Bowl and about the fact that I’m going to hear Bernadette Peters live on Thursday night, and I’m reading Joe by Ron Padgett, and lots of other things. But now I have to find something to wear and try to make myself presentable.

My public awaits.

I wonder what SMU students think when I come into the class room feeling this way. No more coffee for you, bud.

Not a thing to wear

Not a thing to wear