Saturday, February 8, 2014

Rest in Peace, Maxine Kumin

Whereof the Gift Is Small

Maxine Kumin
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
And short the season, first rubythroat
in the fading lilacs, alyssum in bloom,
a honeybee bumbling in the bleeding heart
on my gelding’s grave while beetles swarm
him underground. Wet feet, wet cuffs,
little flecks of buttercup on my sneaker toes,
bluets, violets crowding out the tufts
of rich new grass the horses nose
and nibble like sleepwalkers held fast—
brittle beauty—might this be the last?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Beautiful Book

I finished Michael Hainey's After Visiting Friends this morning and had goosebumps when I got to the last page. The whole book is just beautiful. Beautiful short splashes of memory that combine into a memoir. Lovely, subtle suspense-building. A person working through memories and lives in a way that reminds me how fleeting lives are and how connected we are to each other. The love of family, place, profession--these things came out in the writing. I just thought it was lovely.

Each of us has a creation tale--how we came into the world. And I'll add this: Each of us has an uncreation tale--how our lives come apart. That which undoes us. Sooner or later, it will claim you. Mark you. More than your creation" (66).

This is something that will stay with me:

Sons. Sons are roped to fathers. Fathers? Well . . . Are we sure they're tied to sons? Sons need fathers. Fathers?

Sons take years from fathers.

Honest fathers know this. Picture an hourglass. Two globes. One filled, the other empty. Now, in your mind, turn it over. The top of the globe, the father. The grains of sand, his years. The bottom of the globe? That's the son. See the years slipping away from the father. Filling up the son? Fathers flow into sons.

Think of Icarus.

A father and son exist on an island. At some point, the father longs to escape. The son? He doesn't want to be left behind. Abandoned. And fathers? They always have plans. But sons should remember that the plans of their fathers often have holes. A father is no shield for a son. (169)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Pure Love

I just read Eve Ensler's memoir, In the Body of the World. It's beautiful; I was hooked by the second page. I love the connections she makes and how she weaves poetry and prose. She has lived and now puts into words what I have intuited about anger and wanting to know how the world works--how this can eat your insides. How it is a form of protection. This is just the most beautiful work I have read in a long time.

The signs accumulated. But I did not respond. I would not wake up. We will not wake up. This terrifying sleep of denial. Is it an underlying belief that we as a human species are not worth it? Do we secretly feel we have lost our right to be here in all our selfishness and stupidity, our cruelty and greed? (20)

This is what I'm calling the writer's drive; this is the destructive side, which is the side that can see and feel pain, and this pain works against the writer's self-healing; it is the anger that manifests as the desire to know everything; it is the fuel that prevents the inward search, the inward healing; it perpetuates the worst of ourselves, but it is also a truth, a key:
I needed to know what violence looked like. I needed to know how others survived. I needed to listen. But what I really needed was to know the world, the truth of the world. I needed to find the invisible underlying story that connected everything (154).
[It may be misleading to take this quote out from the middle of its paragraph.] Think of "connected everything" and the title of Elizabeth Gilbert's new novel, "The Signature of All Things." I think these connections and patterns are the writer's work.

'Wouldn't it be incredible if everyone could be purged, somehow, of the projected not-them badness that they internalized and perhaps have acted out because their souls have been so damaged? Wouldn't it be incredible if everyone could find the joy that comes with committing to our own goodness? Perhaps we would stop dividing ourselves into malignancies of various forms.' (203)

If I were in a typing mood, I would also quote her last chapter.

I just love this book.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

"Full Body Burden"

Kristen Iversen's Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats is the best book I've read in a long time. Here's the puzzle--we've already done it to ourselves; now, how to remember? how to get better?

The technical challenges of storing or dealing with radioactive waste are daunting, partly because radioactive waste can remain toxic for such vast lengths of time--from 10,000 to millions of years. The most problematic elements are neptunium-237, with a half-life of 2 million years, and plutonium-239 , with a half-life of 24,000 years. It will be 240,000-plus years before the plutonium we made in the 1940s will approach the end of its radioactive life. Radioactive waste must be stored and managed in a stable place--safe from earthquakes, water, or other weather elements--and be under the constant watchful eye of stable human institutions or governments. Government agencies struggle with how to communicate to future generations how lethal these storage sites are. Signs in English will likely be inadequate, and perhaps are even today. Linguists are working to develop symbols or pictures that will warn of contamination and can last hundreds and thousands of years. (333)

In the geography of land and the geography of the body, some things are seen and some are unseen (338).

We don't talk about plutonium. It's bad for business. It reminds us of what we don't want to acknowledge about ourselves. We built nuclear bombs, and we poisoned ourselves in the process. Where does the fault lie? Atomic secrecy, the Cold War culture, bureaucratic indifference, corporate greed, a complacent citizenry, a failed democracy? What is a culture but a group of individuals acting on the basis of shared values?

In less than a generation we have forgotten what happened at Rocky Flats, and why it must never happen again. In a few years it will be completely forgotten, as if it never occurred at all. Will those who walk on the trails and pitch their tents to watch the stars know what the land can't forget? Years and decades will pass; governments and government agencies will change. People will build homes and businesses and roads and parks on land tainted by an invisible and invincible demon. And no one will know. (338-340)

Friday, December 6, 2013

Quote: Loss, Pain, Stories, Language

From Aleksandar Hemon's The Book of My Lives:

One day at breakfast, while Ella ate her oatmeal and rambled on about her brother [whom she made up], I recognized in a humbling flash that she was doing exactly what I'd been doing as a writer all these years: in my books, fictional characters allowed me to understand what was hard for me to understand (which, so far, has been nearly everything). Much like Ella, I'd found myself with an excess of words, the wealth of which far exceeded the pathetic limits of my biography. I'd needed narrative space to extend myself into; I'd needed more lives; I, too, had needed another set of parents, and someone other than myself to throw my metaphysical tantrums. I'd cooked up those avatars in the soup of my ever-changing self, but they were not me--they did what I wouldn't or couldn't. Listening to Ella furiously and endlessly unfurl the yarns of the Mingus tales, I understood that the need to tell stories is deeply embedded in our minds, and inseparably entangled with the mechanism that generate and absorb language. Narrative imagination--and therefore fiction--is a basic evolutionary tool of survival. We process the world by telling stories and produce human knowledge through our engagement with imagined selves. (205-206)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Quote on Music and Time

(Things I'm still processing: the role of critique, my critical side)

I just finished reading Mo' Meta Blues, by Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and I love this passage (taken from the middle of a paragraph and the context might change the feeling behind this passage):
Music has the power to stop time. When I listen to songs, I'm transported back to the moment of their birth, which is sometimes even before the moment of my birth. Old songs, rock or soul or blues, still connect with me because the human emotions in them, whether jealousy or rage or hope, are recognizably similar to the emotions that I'm feeling now. But I'm feeling all of them, all the time, and so the songs act like a chemical process that isolates certain feelings at certain times: maybe one song helps illuminate the jubilation and one helps illuminate the sorrow and one helps illuminate the resignation. Music has the power to stop time. But music also keeps time. Drummers are timekeepers. Music conserves time and serves time, just as time conserves and serves music. (272)