Monthly Archives: June 2010

Tempest Tossed at Poet’s Walk

I wanted to go to Poet’s Walk, in Rhinebeck N.Y. for a good long time. I have driven by the park for years, mostly on a too and from the train station and yet I never visited. So when on SUnday it finally came time to visit with my friend Lucy, I was, I expect, overly excited and envisioned a miraculous synthesis of walking and poetry. A wonderland with poems posted inspirationally as one walked the paths along the Hudson River.

It was not that. It was land, well placed yes, with paths carved, or mowed into tall grass. Folks sitting on handmade benches were counting butterflies and munching sandwiches and a few Icelandic tourists, to whom I could say I love you in their native tongue. That was the extent of the poetry.

The pamphlet says they called it Poet’s Walk as an homage to Washington Irving and Thoreau who may have been inspired by such landscape, but it was a disappointment for me. As much is of late. Even with my poem in pocket I cannot escape myself and the feeling of dread that I will not find a job. Really any job at this point. Or health insurance. That I will have to sell my place in the city and retire in shame to the country.  Retirement is fine; I just don’t want to have to slink off . I want another decade to work hard and make a difference.

All of this is, as my mother would have said is, an upscale problem. And she would have been right. But it is upending any life that bothers me. The anticipation of massive change is never easy and I feel as if I have done myself in with a life lived less than well and no amount of balmic words can sooth this soul.

Last night, tempest tossed, with my head full of dread, I attempted to find Mary Oliver and her wild geese harsh and exciting calling to me. I cocked my head to hear them honk in their harsh and exciting voices, but I was deaf, and drowsy, but unable to fall asleep. So I pinged, ricocheted from one verse to another in a kind of mix and match version of the real poem. Now this stanza, now that and finally with the jumble in my head I went to sleep.

When I went to lunch with Marty, see the earlier postings, he asked for my June poem and also asked about the poet, Mary Oliver so I sent him this bio. I include it here because who knows, what one asks many thinks.

Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver was born on September 10, 1935 in Maple Heights, Ohio. As a teenager, she lived briefly in the home of Edna St. Vincent Millay, where she helped Millay’s family sort through the papers the poet left behind.

In the mid-1950s, Oliver attended both Ohio State University and Vassar College, though she did not receive a degree.

Her first collection of poems, No Voyage, and Other Poems, was published in 1963. Since then, she has published numerous books, including Thirst (Beacon Press, 2006); Why I Wake Early (2004); Owls and Other Fantasies : Poems and Essays (2003); Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems (1999); West Wind (1997); White Pine (1994); New and Selected Poems (1992), which won the National Book award; House of Light (1990), which won the Christopher Award and the L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award; and American Primitive (1983), for which she won the Pulitzer Prize.

The first part of her book-length poem The Leaf and the Cloud (Da Capo Press, 2000) was selected for inclusion in The Best American Poetry 1999 and the second part, “Work,” was selected for The Best American Poetry 2000. Her books of prose include Long Life: Essays and Other Writings (2004); Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse (1998); Blue Pastures (1995); and A Poetry Handbook (1994).

“Mary Oliver’s poetry is an excellent antidote for the excesses of civilization,” wrote one reviewer for the Harvard Review, “for too much flurry and inattention, and the baroque conventions of our social and professional lives. She is a poet of wisdom and generosity whose vision allows us to look intimately at a world not of our making.”

Her honors include an American Academy of Arts & Letters Award, a Lannan Literary Award, the Poetry Society of America’s Shelley Memorial Prize and Alice Fay di Castagnola Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Oliver held the Catharine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching at Bennington College until 2001. She currently lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Wicki TriBeCa Walks to SOHO

And suppose I don’t find a way to unite the disparate things I want to say?

Suppose I am just a set of clouds morphing in the sky, fluffy and cumulous.

Suppose I just say what happened?

I fretted about jobs and money and my place in the world, in the family of things and in my family. I worried about not being valuable enough and about how to get work, real work. And then I spoke to all the wonderful civil servants in the state of Rhode Island who have jumped into the breach to help me. And I felt lifted, noticed and cared for. I felt not so alone with the anger over being left with another mess to clean up after my reckless, feckless brother toddled off, haplessly or hopefully to his next assignment in the great beyond.

The social workers, the mental health professionals who helped my brother took over and found out how to help me too. I have infinite respect for them and the care they evinced for Peter after death and for Peter’s partner and for me. And so although the medical examiner’s office still does not know the cause of death, and as they explained it to me, they will not know for another 3 months, (why because when someone takes as many drugs as my brother did, it takes a long time for toxicology to unravel the strands) still the finality and arrangements have given me a kind of peace.

And so feeling I had been able to find a way to have my brother cremated and for his remains to be delivered, with a little ceremony to his partner has made me feel I did right by him. And I am feeling freer. And so I went to a lunch offered to me by my old time boy friend but more importantly, my long-time friend Marty.

He invited me to a “nice lunch” and in fact it was magical. It was at Balthazar, late lunch, packed dining room, glorious flowers, rose wine, steak and conversation where Marty shared what he recalled of my brother from when we were in college and my brother was ending high school and going off to art school in Philly. A five year throw. And Marty recalled some of the things my brother had done, said and attempted.

He recalled that Peter had painted his room orange and yellow in an attempt to make it resemble the inside of a circus tent. That he made a movie where he used adhesive tape to demarcate the titles on my back, and had me sit in the back yard to get a sunburn. We recalled how great the titles looked and how long it took for the words to leave my back. He remembered how my brother had taken his SAT’s on acid and made a pattern with the boxes and scored very well. He said Peter was arrogant and pompous and full of himself even as a young man, but Marty also said there was sweetness to him and I tried to recall it.

I walked from TriBeCa to Soho and then back, not a long walk, but for me tedious. And it was hot, and humid, but again, and why can’t I remember this, as soon as I got my stride and my poem going I was moving along just fine. I stopped and listened to a young man play the piano as part of the Sing for Hope program. This public art initiative places free artist decorated pianos in parks all over NYC this summer ( ) It seemed like a spontaneous celebration. I knew that the young man, who was my brother, the kid brother who had addressed letters to me in the late 70’s and early 80’s merely as: WICKI TRIBECA, would have loved the random pianos dotting my downtown landscape. Yes the letters got to me. And no they wouldn’t now. The world, my landscape has changed radically. It has for all of us, but I do still know that the world offers itself freely to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting.

I need to remember to listen better.

My Younger brother, My Little Brother Died on Saturday

I finally walked today in the muggy, wet laundry on your shoulders, New York City second day of summer. And now I want to blurt. I do not want to edit and construct.

My brother, my little brother died on Saturday. He was 57. He was difficult and by his own design he was ridden hard and put away wet. Meaning he lived a hard life, lots of drugs, lots of partners, lots of fights, and by the end, he had very few folks left who could even stand to be close to him.

He has a long suffering partner, lover, a man with whom he lived for decades. It was he who called me weeping saying that Peter was dead. In fact his name is Peter as well, but called Pete.

My first reaction was a kind of sad relief. My brother had abused and tortured me and did the same to nearly every woman with whom he came in contact. He was fired from all the jobs he had. 20 years ago he got a shrink to declare him unemployable and he has gotten a subvention every week from Social Services for his disability. It’s true. So he lived and painted and gardened and randomly painted his house crazy colors and ranted on his web site and wrote me nasty, horrible jeremiads designed to enlighten me. Then when my daughter was old enough he wrote them to her. He wrote them to all his ex-girl friends.

And still we all loved him because he was a luminous painter and a witty writer and creativity poured out of him in equal measure to his venom. And so it is difficult to parse an end to him.

His partner found him in the bed and thought he was taking a nap on Saturday afternoon. Hours later he realized that was not the case. When the paramedics and police came there were bottles of pills everywhere and they said my brother had been dead for hours. Now the pills were not unusual. He drank all my father’s cough medicine, and switched his partner’s medications so he could consume it. When we were much younger and I turned down a cup of coffee in the late afternoon, he informed me that was what Valium was for. Drink as much coffee as you want, then take Valium. Simple

I think his death is not simple. It stirs up in me a host of feelings, among them is the sensation that I am no longer living in a kind of cognitive dissonance. I didn’t know what to say about my brother. We were estranged. He is this side of lunacy. He hurt me so much I was terrified of him. Now I can just say. He died.

I have one of his paintings hanging on the wall, one he did in art school. It is an old ball jar filled with flour and it looks as if there is an incandescent light coming out in rays.

And so when I walked back today, finally calm, finally not on the phone to the  social security administration or food stamps, or his mental health advocate. When I was alone with my thoughts and the heat and rush hour traffic I relaxed and recited this part of my poem over and over for him.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination.

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—

over and over announcing your place in the family of things.

For me Peter’s place in the family of things is at peace from the demons who so obviously ate and him and made him thrash, and bite and hurt so many who loved him.

Relax and Learn . . . really

I have houseguests, French houseguests and everything is being done in two languages. The guest is a woman I adore who was our au par when my, now big children, were little kids. She has come to visit with her 18 year old nephew and we are seeing everything through his very excited eyes: Times Square, Washington Square Park, the lines for the Statue of Liberty, the NBA finals, all of it. And so it is busier than usual in my loft.

This means for me it is even more important to carve out ways to be alone, or to do things for myself, otherwise it is all about cooking, laundry, buying tickets on line, setting up the internet for French Yahoo and talking and laughing. Not bad things.

But what happens to me is that I allow the needs of others to constantly take precedence over my own needs, wants, and desires. So I went to walk early, and since I began to do Pilates again I saw that I walked much more easily. No, I didn’t love it. No I still often think, oh I could be doing so many more interesting or useful things. But I moved up and down the Hudson River clinging to my poem, inside my head. I had forgotten to bring the paper with me. So I tried to see the order of things, because this poem is tough for sequencing.

It is walk on your kness/ for a hundred miles/through the desert/ REPENTING I have all the elements but to me they could be interchanged. But I am not the writer of this poem, Mary Oliver is.

Then the poet begins to unfurl her vision of  the world goe on. What happens? What does she see when painting a simple picture of  the elements in a personal yet grand universe.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

Are moving across the landscapes,

Over the prairies and the deep trees,

The mountains and the rivers.

I am attempting to see myself flying over the country and observing the landscape and then the Nebraska prairie, moving further into the west and the trees, then the mountains and finally close enough to the coast to glimpse a river. If I don’t see it I can’t learn it.

Later in the day, while waiting for Pilates to begin, I spied a blurb on how to increase memory. The key, the pundit said, was to relax. A tense brain does not learn as well. Oh well that does it for school I guess, but learning while walking or meandering, ought to release some tensions and open the path to poetry.

Walking WIth A Three-Year-Old

I walked today with a little girl. I walked today with my god-daughter Holly. I walked today in the rain with a three-year old and it was slow and languid and amazing.

We walked a little less than the half mile to her tumbling class; she with blond curls, and a polka-dotted rain coat and me dark-haired and straight in my blue parka. We held hands. We barked like dogs to make ourselves run faster to cross the very big streets. We talked about school and painting and if her baby sister could walk and how cool it was that she at three could do so much. We saw dogs, we saw street vendors selling fruit and we took small steps. I never for a second wished anything would go more quickly.

As we talked, why was the most constant refrain, but there were also shared ideas about books we were reading or how her sister was growing and why we should bark to make ourselves go faster to not be bumped by cars. We both agreed that would hurt.

At tumbling Holly climbed ropes and forward rolled down a big blue mat. She jumped on a trampoline and waited her turn in foot prints painted just so you could wait in the proper place. There were two other little kids there, boys both, and the level of work and play was considerable.

When class was over we retraced our steps wandering, barking and talking our way back to her apartment. There is a singlemindedness to being with small children and it, at least for me, is a kind of meditation. I cannot multi-task. I cannot wheedle to make things go more swiftly. The walk takes as long as short squat legs will deliver it. And this needs to be a mantra for me as well. Some things are slow. Some things cannot be delivered in a flurry of speed, and a walk is one of those things for me.