or, Notes On The Experience of Reading Fanny Howe’s The Needle’s Eye While Watching My Wife’s Father Die And Being Reminded, Perhaps Unavoidably, of Rilke’s First Duino Elegy ~~~ We arrive to wait and watch. He lies, gape-mouthed and gasping, flinching, wincing and moaning intermittently. ~ We go and we sit in the room and we watch the man die the man dying the dying man We watch him breathe. We watch him stop breathing. We watch him start breathing again. ~ We watch him wince and moan and flinch and wheeze and we listen to his lungs gurgle and at some point— as his eyes open less and less, as the words leave his mouth for good, as the food and the water enter his mouth less and less and eventually stop their entering entirely—at some point, watching someone die changes into something else, changes into something harder. At some point—if the dying takes long enough—watching someone die becomes watching someone not die. ~ She says, The end of life is hard for the living. ~ He says that room back there (waving towards the bathroom off his room) must be hotter than this one because he can see a white… (gestures—fingers fluttering, hand moving side to side)…a white… (mumbles something and…). Quiet. Breathing. ~ “A person can feel the impression of a soft body of air indicating presence or further life on her hands or arms or anywhere, sometimes in stillness and safety, and understand that the entire universe is held against her skin in an equilibrium that holds her steady for her life span. Too great a sense of the tremendous explosion of creation in which we live would obliterate us. We feel what we can on our skins and through its porous cells into the nerves and bones where our reckless and pathetic ancestors carry on.” ~ He says he can see steam rising from his feet. ~ “Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies? and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart: I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence. For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure, and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.” ~ He says there was a woman in his room wearing a peach dress (Did you see her?) and holding a basket in front of her. ~ “One thing surrounds you in parts, drops of sunshine, or shadows, and these vaporous gods live on after you are gone. But wait. Where have I seen that woman’s face before? Why did she pause at the door as if she knew me? She is folded in smoke from the crematorium over the hills there.” ~ She says that her mother's favorite fragrance, White Shoulders, has been in the room since the day he arrived. ~ “ ‘The trick is to follow the clue, to see the chance connection, attend to it, and against all reason, follow it to the next clue, or coincidence, yes, if the reading at Mass echoes what you were thinking about in the night, follow that message out into the streets, and the next, follow the coincidences.’ “ ~ I don’t believe that my dreams are prophetic. I don’t think that they are trying to tell me anything. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t listen to what they are saying. ~ The nurses come and they moisten his lips and the inside of his mouth with small disposable sponges on the end of a stick which they dip into the cup of ice water that he is no longer drinking. ~ His lucidity slips but his slips are lucid His lucidity is slipping but (t)his slipping is lucid. ~ A movement catches my eye. It is his foot twitching, under the volunteer-crocheted afghan. But when I look up from my reading, I see there also the child’s foot, my daughter’s, like an echo, she in the recliner that already he has stopped using just beyond his bed, the two of them in the same basic position, her mother—his daughter—between them in a chair, the mirror of time reflecting both ways and al(l-)ways changing—age and youth, the mother— his daughter—between them, between him and his daughter’s daughter. ~ “She was born on a rise in time facing two ways.” ~ A woman—another dying person’s visitor—sits in one of the sitting areas reading a magazine and I notice the title, “Sophisticated Living.” She does not look sophisticated. She mostly just looks like some thing is being emptied out of her. ~ Hard shadows and soft shadows. Near and far. Light from the window falls through the blinds and across my foot and onto the corner of the bed which doubles as a socket for I.V. poles. ~ Always there is one thing ending as another begins. ~ All positions are transitions. All positions are transpositions. ~ These things begin to get as confused as he is. but….is he? Perhaps these things only begin to sound as confused as he does/is/seems. Is he confused or is it his or our reality that is confused? ~ Which is harder, watching him die or watching him not die? (All quotes are from Fanny Howe's The Needle's Eye, Passing Through Youth except for the passage begginning, "Who, if I cried out...", which is from Rainer Maria Rilkes First Duino Elegy, Stephen Mitchell's translation)
In the interest of maintaining interest on A Prayer Like Gravity while I explore the idea of Getting Things Published Out There, I am exploring various ideas of What Else Can I Write And Publish Here? I don’t usually write non-fiction or essays and in fact I have either failed or dropped English Composition I no less than three times (it was a long time ago, but still…) so hopefully these Forays Into Non-Fiction and Poetics will be of interest to others and not so terribly written or long-winded as to be un-readable. Hopefully, they will improve over time. You’ll have to let me know how I do.
So here’s one idea: Intersections. I am almost constantly struck (often dumb or like a bell) by the way in which so many of the things I am reading, listening to and thinking about intersect and how these things seem to feed off of each other. Things seem to Free-Associate in my world (call it the Poetic Imagination at work) and I constantly see connections and interconnections and I am trying to pay better attention to them.
Today’s Intersection is…..Bubble Words
Some days, I wake up with a word on my lips. A small word. A big word. It will simply be there in the mind like a bubble from the bottom of a pond. Sometimes it will be a word I know well. Sometimes, I will have to look it up. Whether I look it up or not, whether I know it or not, it will often continue to bubble up—periodically, seemingly at random—for a quite a while. I feel at the time like looking it up in the dictionary or on the internet might help it go away, like I’m trying to get rid of chronic hiccups or an itch or a song that gets stuck in my head. I try to pay attention to these words. I try to put them in my journal. At least the strange ones, the different ones, the non-mundane ones. I’m not always good about it and I know I should pay attention to all of them. Some of them become rather relentless and stick around for weeks or months. (Many find their way into my Word Wild Weft.)
The latest one was “interferon”.
That’s what I said.
“Interferon? Really? Where the hell did you come from? I don’t even know how to spell you.”
Luckily Google does. So I looked it up. I won’t bore you with all the technical details that I barely begin to comprehend but suffice it to say that interferons help us fight disease. According to Wikipedia (I don’t care what your high-school history teachers say, that’s where I start all my research), “Interferons (IFNs) are a group of signaling proteins made and released by host cells in response to the presence of several pathogens, such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, and also tumor cells.”
(Kinda purty, ain’t they?)
“Interferons are named for their ability to ‘interfere’ with viral replication by protecting cells from virus infections.”
Whatever, interferon. Talk to ya’ later.
Well, this word kept bubbling up–multiple times a day. They do that sometimes. I’ll be pouring granola into my yogurt, getting a soda from the fountain at work, staring off into space (I do that a lot), or reading some terribly profound poem and “POP!”
Fast forward about a week.
Interferon is still making its periodic bubbly appearances and I’m in my car listening to a Poetry Off the Shelf podcast. I’ve been listening to these podcasts from the Poetry Foundation for a while now. Some of them are as short as 4-5 minutes long and they are rarely more than twelve minutes long which makes them perfect for my short commutes to and from work.
Being the somewhat obsessive delver-into-new-knowledge that I am, and considering that I recently got a new phone with a ridiculous amount of storage, I’ve gone back to the very first Poetry Off the Shelf podcasts from 2006 and have been listening to them all in chronological order.
I have gotten to the November 28th, 2006 episode, entitled “Call The Poet,” and our host, Curtis Fox, is interviewing (and lightly, good-humoredly grilling) poet Charlie Smith about his somewhat opaque poem, Sprung (I have a fondness for opaque poems, as long as I can still see the light through them):
Curtis Fox: “What are you getting at there?”
Charlie Smith: “I have no idea. It’s just a phrase that came to me that I like a lot. I like to think about things like ‘crimes of our nature’, whatever they might be. I don’t really know what it means other than that it probably means pretty much what it says.” (I love that bit.)
Curtis Fox: “So, when I’m knocking my head against the poem trying to figure out ‘what does he mean by “the crimes of our nature”?’, I shouldn’t be doing that.”
Charlie Smith: “Oh, you can do it if you like. It’s fine with me whatever you do with the poem. I mean, a poem is—poems blow the dust off of life. I mean, they’re like a kind of spiritual interferon (!) or wonder-drug. They make the fading spirit inflate again and come alive again and they do that in all kinds of ways. And you can get at them by knocking your head against them or you can get at them by treating them like a limbo bar or you can get at them by seducing them or being seduced by them. But they’re supposed to in some way make it so that we see things a little more clearly.”
…like a party popper…
This is why I pay attention to these wordy bubble-ups, these stray neural firings, these apparently random but somehow loaded sleepwalking words that wander through my day-time life. Because stuff like this happens.
Now, I’m not particularly superstitious nor do I believe that “things happen for a reason” and I am basically a rationalist and a skeptic but I do believe that we should pay attention to the things that happen and that we can learn a lot about ourselves when and if we pay attention and that when I pay attention to the things that happen in my life my mind begins to feel like a Large Hadron Collider as things and words and ideas bing and bong and ping off of each other and things seen or read or heard some where and some when seem to link up quantumly with things seen or read or heard some other where and some other when and…..
…and now again I am reminded also of a quote from Billy Collins:
“I think of a poem as an interruption of silence and I think of prose as a continuation of noise.”
Which is of course hilarious in its own Billycollinsian way but I find myself thinking, what if what we think of as silence is more often in fact just the white noise that the mind has been fooled into thinking of as silence when in fact it is all the far-too-much-noise that has drowned out the silence at the heart of our souls, the silence that we need desperately to listen to, the silence that we must make space for, the silence that we must find time for, so that when we read poems, they have some silence to interrupt.
I often think of poems as pebbles, pebbles that we toss into the pools of our minds, but what effect can these pebbles have if the pool is not still? Like tossing a pebble into a pond in a heavy downpour, will we see the ripples? Will we notice the effect? Will we even be able to tell where the pebble hit the water? Will we notice the things that bubble up from the bottom of the pond?
You never know, some of them might even be shining, golden fish…
So tell me, have you had any Bubble Words simmer to the surface of your life lately? Anything bing or bong or ping in that LHC you carry around on your shoulders?