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Friday, October 26, 2018

The dead man in the huckleberries

Source: CNN, courtesy Scott Mitchell Leen, Chihuly Studio

Travel and illness are both estranging, and I've managed quite enough of both of late. Yesterday I felt like myself again and promptly wrote a poem about a visit to the Chihuly show at the Vanderbilt estate, Biltmore. I found this surprising because I no longer write many poems where the "I" is so clearly related to me. Lately I've written two long series of poems that ostensibly have nothing at all to do with my days, though of course that's a feint, a bull's red flag, a dropped handkerchief. Maybe the little poem was just grounding me--hey, I'm back in my life!

After that, I worked on a forthcoming novel. I had a dead man to tote to another part of the manuscript, and then I--poof!--turned a long passage of description into a scene starring the main character interacting with various things, including the hair of that aforesaid dead man.

The dead are heavy but portable. Sometimes they make more sense in one place than another. This is true in life also, but we don't get to choose. Although I do know a few people who carry around the dead in urns. On a mantlepiece, the dead are strangely magnetic. They provide a kind of focus to a room. Not the fashionable kind that house decorators desire... This seems wrong, of course. The dead are already magnetic without being physically present in a room. They follow us whether we will or no. They crowd around as we grow older. We ignore them most of the time, but now and then one becomes vivid.

Here they are, getting in the way of my blog post.

Possibly signaling for attention?

This morning I shall go take a look at my dead man, lying where I planted him in a patch of huckleberries, somewhere in the northern precincts of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. If he is not content to lie there, perhaps I shall move him again.

* * * * *

Despite getting so little work done (North Carolina, hurricane Florence, northern New York, a retreat at Mons Nubifer Sanctus, etcetera), I have a number of pieces of good book or book-related news but shall save them until some time after the next Rollipoke goes out, as Rollipokers get the news first--that's the deal. So if you're the sort of person who likes to be on tenterhooks, go right ahead.


  1. I love Chiluly's work. I went to his museum in Seattle.
    Took a lot of pics.

    1. The organist here at Christ Church went to the same elementary school as Chihuly in Tacoma. Chihuly donated a chandelier for the lobby when they built a new school...

  2. I have been finding of late that many spirits of the living have been haunting me. They are location based. A walk in the woods where I was unable to stop seeing my son when younger, my parent, my aunt and uncle, my cousin -- all still very alive, but not allowing me to enjoy that walk without bursting into tears about lost past and lost possible futures. Not allowing me to be "in the now" in any healthy sense at all.

    That particular incident was pre-injury and a few months ago when I was in the midst of more strife and anxiety. That said, it is a daily chore of mine to find the focus working in my home, alone, with the echos of open concept and hardwood, without the unhealthy distraction of wondering about what was, and what could have been -- and working hard to be here and now and work on creating my healthy tomorrow.

    I've less issue thinking about those in my past who are gone than those in my present who aren't physically here.

    Not sure if this makes any sense.

    For additional fodder, listen to this podcast "The Hidden Brain" episode "Looking Back"

    When is nostalgia useful and when does it get in the way of us living in the now and moving forward?



    1. Gary, that is a lovely response, and true. I was thinking about the dead because I was metaphysically manhandling the dead via words (writers being strange creatures), but it is true that we are all caught in a web made of many threads, some broken, coming out of the past. Choices. "Things done and left undone." I'm glad you wrote those words. Jean Vanier said, “I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.” (I thought of him because one of my children volunteered for L'Arche, once upon a time. And Vanier believes in sharing weakness in community, and doing ordinary things with tenderness.)

      I don't doubt that your surgery is a kind of turning point where you pause to look back and mull such things and sometimes mourn them. Perhaps your nostalgia is simply a necessary stage before you go on--useful if you inspect it, learn from it, and eventually pick up your pack and march off again. Perhaps it is a needed resting point. You have, after all, walked a much harder path as a parent than most people, and others did not always have the strength to walk it with you. But you have been a wonderful father despite trials, and have done interesting work and been a good friend to others as well.

      Another Vanier quote I like that seems apt to your case: “Every child, every person needs to know that they are a source of joy; every child, every person, needs to be celebrated. Only when all of our weaknesses are accepted as part of our humanity can our negative, broken self-images be transformed.” You have spent much of your life making sure that someone else was "celebrated," and to many, many people that has been a kind of light that probably shines farther than you realize. I and many others admire and are inspired by such lights in the dark.

  3. I worried. It had to be something out of the ordinary to silence such an energetic and joyful spirit. I too have been fictionally stuck, wondering whether I didn't love my central character, Lindsay, sufficiently - a woman who started out with such flair. Or have I finally run out of novel-urging energy? I am tempted to take a detour (I've done quite a few recently) and do a sonnet based on my relief at hearing from you again. Yeah, why not? Bad technique probably, but heartfelt sentiment.

    1. Yes, it was very out of my ordinary... Not quite done but feeling much better and will have a final scan on Tuesday and be stamped with approval, I hope.

      Please do write a sonnet! Perhaps Lindsay will be inspired by that--or perhaps she will write a sonnet...

      Thank you for the worry, and feel free to jig and frolic about the kitchen.

    2. Sonnet: For those thought lost

      Silence that launched a chord of baneful noise,
      That gnawed at hope, gave rise to fear, and then,
      Forgetful of those early, adult joys,
      Foresaw a shortage of life’s oxygen.

      Without that strength, my stuff came slackly slow,
      The sinews limp, the bones time out of joint,
      The wit remote, the touch mere embryo,
      Dull lines that lacked a vital counterpoint.

      For I was not, it seemed, a soloist
      Dependant on a single prideful voice,
      Life’s a duet, I need a catalyst
      Before that inner voice can say: Rejoice!

      But now the void is split with better news
      And Lindsay’s gift may yet be to amuse

    3. Well, you really got right down to work! Thank you.

      The honor of a sonnet is mine--whee! And what interesting rhymes you have (shades of Little Red Riding Hood.)

      so-lo-ist / cat-a-lyst
      fear-and-then / ox-y-gen
      slack-ly-slow / em-bry-o

      That last one is not just a match for final rhyme sound and stress but has two sets of syllables that are pairs.

      I suppose that if you don't want it to be partially private, you'll have to pop out Lindsay, but I enjoy it as my own semi-private Robinsonian sonnet!

  4. Our relationships with our fictional characters are strange. Various authors have said we must make their lives a misery "see what they're made of". My first seriously conceived novel (as opposed to those I wrote in the US and in Kingston at the rate of 1000 words an evening - every evening) was Gorgon Times. I did my best to torture Clare - the co-central character - but in my heart of hearts I needed her to win; I have the feeling all her reverses were somewhat underwritten. Hopelessly unprofessional, but I've been more hard-hearted in subsequent novels

    The lives of characters take on stature when someone else alludes to them, as you did with Lindsay. Yes I know it was a small conceit on your part but briefly I was sharing her. Vistas opened; I know now I need to define her more exactly. Great! It's always easier to tinker than to create.

    And thus your reference to Lindsay provided a fulcrum for the couplet. I was missing you both, but your absence was real while Lindsay's was my own fault. You got the three stanzas and she got two lines. I'm glad you're back. For selfish reasons of course; you're very good at give and take.

    Jig and frolic about the kitchen? I'll have you know I'm there for the acoustic. When VR enters as I boom, she's always encouraging and yet I tail away. The acoustic is a great aid but it's also indulgent, I can't carry it round with me. I must learn to do without it and that, surely, is one of the eternal verities about making things.

    1. Yes, stature! I still have people tell me that they wept for Catherwood, and it pleases me (terrible?) so much. It reminds me a little of how careful I have always been to mention someone very close to me who died too young--that I do not want her reality to fade away so soon.

      It is interesting that we who make stories have, no matter how much we like a character, a kind of coldness that allows the continuance of a trajectory that may be quite sad or dreadful. I doubt that we see our own trajectories very well, despite creating so many other ones!

      Okay, no jigging! Whistle me a tune, then. And give my thanks to Lindsay...


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.