Monthly Archives: July 2010

Leaves of Grass

I am back in NYC for a full month attempting to learn poems, learn patience and learn humility. I would along the way like to take on less anger. Perhaps that is the flip side of patience, as in can you really be angry if you are patient? That might be a question for the gurus or sages among us.

So today I took my Whitman and walked to the waterfront to meet a friend who didn’t show, as she had mistakenly marked the walk in another calendar. And so I plodded alone and reverted to reciting my committed to memory Mary Oliver, Wild Geese over and over and I waited for the world to offer itself to my imagination.

My imagination is still in foment, as I seem to see me in so many wonderful yet wildly divergent jobs, all of which lately are cropping up on web sites or in referrals from friends. In working with the career coach, she advised me to have a sentence which I repeat, mantra-like to imprint the firm notion that

I HAVE AN EXCITING, WELL PLAYING JOB, WITH BENEFITS AND THE COMPANY OF COLLEAGUES I ENJOY. That’s not too much is it?

And then my most faithful reader sent me a 3 minute coaching mantra, which boiled down to its essence, of 30 seconds is this: in life there are two times only

NOW

And

NOT NOW

This has been amazing; because when I am in a spin I realize it is about what I did in the past or what might happen in the future. However when I lie in the grass, with my three-year-old goddaughter and I read my Leaves of Grass and the breeze wafts and dinner waits at home, because I cooked it, then the terror fades.

I am not advocating becoming a stoner who is only lying on her back looking at the cloud shapes and imagining a real life. I am attempting to find a parenthesis from terror and worry and there are so many wonderful moments in the here and now that it helps me take deep breaths and send out resumes or make a breezy phone call to a potential employer.

Grass, it seems takes many forms.

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Dead Car / Upbeat Spirit / Go Figure

OK so the grown girl child finally made it to her destination, lost passport and all. And the drama has continued, our car, our lovely old black Subaru station wagon with all the kids’ college stickers and extra socks and memories sewn to the leather seats as has up and died. We were supposed to put oil in with the gas and in all our senior moments and crazy life, well we didn’t and it stopped and seized and it is unfixable. Of course I feel it is all my fault. My husband feels it is all his fault.

No mater whose fault, we need a car and I went and found one. I sat in the office and read my Walt Whitman and tried to memorize while they checked my credit. I always imagine that someone will have stolen my name and charged weird stuff or they will come back and say that I am behind on child support for a 17 year old kid I never knew I had. Not so easy to memorize while you are spinning dark fantasies

But I got a car and it will be ready on Friday and then I did laundry and killed copious amounts of flies and felt strangely sanguine about my future for no reason at all. Well I have been intoning to myself  I am strong and brilliant and have the world rolling at my feet in great pleasure. Now I suppose the trick is to see if the world will hear me and give me the job and joy I believe is lurking out there for me.

Magic is a skittish colt and needs to be approached with care.

I do believe, I do believe.

Finally, on Canal Street I begin to learn Walt Whitman

I walked across Canal Street today in the steam and crush of tourists. I walked with my son’s sweetheart, Frieda, taking her to the Fung Wah bus. She was back to Boston after the reunion weekend. And on the way home I began in earnest to learn whatever I can of Whitman’s amazing poem.

He rolls the words calm and actual faces and the faces of an entire world scroll by me. I often think that Canal Street is like the Bosporus in Istanbul, it separates two continents: Asia and Europe. But unlike Istanbul there is no bridge just a massive ebb and flow of language, vegetables, and oh so varied faces. One can never be complacent on Canal Street. The street requires vigilance. And so thus focused, I under take my poem.

In the book my husband purchased for our daughter in DC, Walt Whitman: Selected Poems Edited by Harold Bloom. Bloom discourses on Whitman taking many different tangents, but one struck me as particularly trenchant for my summer struggle to learn and parse merely a small portion of Leaves of Grass. Here it is:

Whitman, demands and rewards, preternaturally close reading the kind that I believe is allied to possession-by-memory. You have to know, his major poems intimately to render them justice, or for them to alter you, at least as a reader.

Leaves of Grass Walt Whitman

#20 Faith

I NEED no assurances-

I am a man who is preoccupied of his own soul;

I do not doubt that whatever I know at a given time, there waits for me more which I do not know:

I do not doubt that from under the feet and beside the hands and face

I am cognizant of, are

now looking faces I am not cognizant of –

Calm and actual faces;

I do not doubt the majesty

And beauty of the world is latent in any iota of the world;

I do not doubt there are

Realizations I have

No idea of, waiting for me

Through time and through the universes –also upon this earth;

I do not doubt I am limitless, and that the universes are limitless –

In vain I try to think how limitless:

A New Phase is Starting Now

Ok so today it hit me. Today I can’t stop crying. Every folded piece of wash, every messy corner of my daughter’s room, every silly shoe, or discarded lacy bra makes me cry. I am going to miss her so terribly and all for a very good reason.

She leaves tomorrow for two years in Europe to participate in a brilliant new program in urban studies called The Four Cities. Six months each in Brussels, Vienna, Copenhagen, and Madrid. A full scholarship, the sweetest sweetheart ever who is back in Berlin from his Fulbright year here in NYC. All good, nay great things. I am excited. I am excited for her, excited for me and for all of it and yet.

I am awash here. I am flooding the keyboard, I am diluting the black coffee and wetting the kitten I am intent upon petting. I am a mess of nerves and laundry spinning in the drier. I am the recipient of all I pray for and then I am the victim of those very prayers.

In short, and in long I am a mess

My daughter is my touchstone and we need to be extracted from each other’s pockets. We need to remember that connection has nothing to do with proximity and everything to do with energy, love and belief. I know all of this, I write it, and I remind others. But like my tears in the therapist’s office two days ago where I wailed, Who will make me the priority to help and nurture the way I do so many others? Often, too often I fall back on her.

We fight. There is no one in my life with whom I have had such vile, virulent arguments that my own daughter. We know where all the soft tissue is and we fight. We are alike and we fight. We are different and we fight. We are both terminally verbal and we spar and banter and it can draw blood. We have learned to apologize well and swiftly. And I hope we have learned to carry to the lessons to the next moment, the next relationship. We try things out on each other; from how does this look, smell, or taste, to how does this make you feel?

We are different. She is impossible tiny; I am not. Her eyes, we say are the sea, mine the sky; both obviously so blue. We read, we write. She makes money, or did until she decided to go to grad school. I am a flounder right now. I am giving her a party tonight, a little cocktail party. For us, in this big barn of a loft where she first came home, grew up and now leaves, a little party can be a 50 or so folk. It truly is just a funky floor of a warehouse from 1840 when they built things big and sturdy.

And to transition from being such a hands on mom to seeing if I can find more me, is going to be a huge task. And so as I zoom toward 60, I am assembling what I am calling Team Wicki. A group of focusers, for want of a different term: exercise, dentistry, therapy, and career coach. Most of them are from within the circle of folks with whom I barter or exchange services so this does not require an infusion of cash right as I am feeling low in the bucks bucket.

But it is exciting from a serendipity stand point that my daughter moves to Europe for grad school, my son graduates college and will move maybe seamlessly into his sister’s super inexpensive Harlem apartment and I may just have no excuse but to write my book, refind fitness and a kind of calm, which has eluded me do to a constant caretaking.

All of this and learning poetry to boot.

Walt Whitman Weekend and Family Reunion

A weekend of Whitman, whether I wanted it or not.

We went to my husband’s family reunion, just his mother’s side of the family and it was a mass of folks we didn’t know, but the sprit was infectious. A big African American family hauling vats of fired fish, green beans, chicken, potato salad, macaroni and cakes in profusion. Two grills were fired at all times for chicken, where the BBQ sauce was swabbed on by a rag soaked in goodness. Burgers, dogs and corn sizzled alongside and kids ran wild, but rarely cried.

There was dancing, the Electric slide and kids swinging in the pine filled Virginia park. We all had purple tee-shirts where the roots of the tree reached out to wherever we may have begun, curling to where we all were on Saturday, ALL IN ONE PLACE. There was a blessing and hooting and hollering.  After all the eating and hullabaloo we returned to downtown DC to our little hotel and repaired, all in preparation to head out to Ben’s Chili Bowl, home of the famous Obama visit.

Ben’s was packed and we squeezed in. One part of our group colonized a booth in the back and the other waited inline for food. OH YES chili fires and after that day of eating we were still raring to go. The music was divine morphing from Prince to Al Green as the juke-box spit out choices. A heartbreakingly beautiful young mother, rail thin, eating a double dose of fries, held her two-year old daughter who insisted on touching the picture of Obama stuck to a mirror behind the booth where he wolfed down his Ben’s goodies.

We walked after dinner and talked and laughed, and I forgot about my lack of job or all my fears.  Why then was it a Walt Whitman weekend? Because we kept passing him in name and countenance. His bridge on the highway, Walt Whitman rest stop, I don’t imagine he loves that, unless folks are using it for illicit sex or to read his poems. And in a used bookstore my husband bought my daughter and me an old copy of Leaves of Grass and Harold Bloom’s take and retake on the famous poems. We read sections to each other from our hotel beds as we digested copious amounts of delicious grease. Family and poetry comes in many forms from old books, and ornate language to a family steeped in grase and laughter.

Maybe This Can Be the July August Poem ?

And so like double issues of magazines or folks on summer hiatus, perhaps I can learn just this poem for the rest of the hot, hot summer. In fact it is hardly a meager endeavor. Walt Whitman in his centennial celbration in Brookyn was the inpetus for this poem, in fact only a portion of Leaves Of Grass.

My duaghter believes I can learn it. I don’t even know the opener and we are a week into this month of Independence. My other choice for the rest of the summer was to relearn or review what I learned already. I came to the realization that I only firmly have June and January in my head. I know it is not a function of the J months as I have done no sticking in JJJJJJ July.

So here it is. The format is wonky and I will have to reenter it but for now, in the heat, waitng for the rain  . . .

20—Faith Poem.

From Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

I NEED no assurances—I am a man who is

pre-occupied of his own soul;

I do not doubt that whatever I know at a given

time, there waits for me more which I do not

know;

I do not doubt that from under the feet, and beside

the hands and face I am cognizant of, are

now looking faces I am not cognizant of —

calm and actual faces;

I do not doubt but the majesty and beauty of the

world is latent in any iota of the world;

I do not doubt there are realizations I have

no idea of, waiting for me through time

and through the universes—also upon this

earth;

I do not doubt I am limitless, and that the uni-

verses are limitless—in vain I try to think

how limitless;

I do not doubt that the orbs, and the systems of

orbs, play their swift sports through the air

on purpose—and that I shall one day be

eligible to do as much as they, and more than

they;

I do not doubt there is far more in trivialities,

insects, vulgar persons, slaves, dwarfs, weeds,

rejected refuse, than I have supposed;

I do not doubt there is more in myself than I have

supposed—and more in all men and women

—and more in my poems than I have

supposed;

I do not doubt that temporary affairs keep on and

on, millions of years;

I do not doubt interiors have their interiors, and

exteriors have their exteriors—and that the

eye-sight has another eye-sight, and the hear-

ing another hearing, and the voice another

voice;

I do not doubt that the passionately-wept deaths

of young men are provided for—and that the

deaths of young women, and the deaths of

little children, are provided for;

I do not doubt that wrecks at sea, no matter

what the horrors of them—no matter whose

wife, child, husband, father, lover, has gone

down—are provided for, to the minutest

point;

I do not doubt that shallowness, meanness, malig-

nance, are provided for;

I do not doubt that cities, you, America, the

remainder of the earth, politics, freedom,

degradations, are carefully provided for;

I do not doubt that whatever can possibly happen,

any where, at any time, is provided for, in

the inherences of things.

Shooting Stars and FIreflies as a Manta

Last week I wrote to a man I met on a journalistic exchange trip to Cuba in the millennial year. We stayed fast friends. I wrote him because I contributed to a book he was editing and there was a back and forth about publicity and what I could do to help. I basically blurted out that I was a loser and couldn’t even help myself. In the cinematic version, I am screaming, Leave me, save yourself, I’m a goner!

But in life it was a rambling email. Oh so much less dramatic.

His response was wonderful.

Wicki,

Don’t trust anything you say about yourself now. Sixty is an extreme… EXTREME transition. We are in an economic depression. Yes, get rid of recession ideas. This is an international depression and fringe money days are not coming back. You will hold on to your home. You always have.

Don’t trust any inner voice that calls you a loser. Au contraire, track it down and create a ritual to destroy it. Create a simple ritual because you will have to destroy it over and over again.

Love,

Charlie

And so today as I rode my bike, sorry but the walking thing, with no wind, in top ninety-degree heat is off the table; even my walking guru is on strike. So I was on two wheels heading to workout, and I tried on a version of a ritual phrase and imagery designed to banish my inner loser voice.

I am a shimmering, glimmering person who will find work and safe happiness because my light wins the day.

And As I say this I want to conjure the image of the fireflies silhouetted in the tall dark trees, with the bowl of stars overhead punctuated by the meteors shooting across the July 4th night. I am lying in the hammock with my grown daughter on her last weekend in the country and in fact in this country for a long, long time.

OK maybe I should take out the last part about WIlli heading off to Europe for grad school as part of the meditation as it makes me a little. She can just be there, her heat as a counterpoint to the radically cool night air. Why not? It is after all my meditation to banish negative thoughts.

I will try this.