Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Looking at the sea, Veloso Salgado (1864-1945)

My birthday is here. Again. I've reached the age when it seems to roll around with startling frequency. This doesn't particularly distress me, but I'm amazed every day by the way life just keeps hurtling on toward its conclusion without consulting my preferences or accommodating my uncertainties. I'm kinda glad it does. If I were actually allowed to be in charge of things, my existence would be one long, dull wait for perfect conditions and my own sense of readiness. Instead, shit just happens and I struggle to keep up. That's way more interesting than living life according to plan, though it's not always 100% fun. Most of the time, I feel like that lady up there at the top of the post—looking toward the horizon with a shifting mixture of curiosity, bewilderment, hope, and dread, wondering what's to come.

The world has had an eventful year, as usual. So much sadness, so much suffering. And don't even get me started on human villainy. My tiny corner of the planet, however, has been blessedly steady. Almost everything that was true on my last birthday is still true. I still have that awesome dog the stupid people threw away, and now I have a second, equally awesome dog. Her old humans didn't want her either. SMDH, as the kids say. 

Miraculously, everything that was good is still good. There have been losses and continuing sorrows, and I'll confess to wasting some time mourning wasted time. But for the most part I have enjoyed twelve solid months of luck, love, generosity, and beauty. Abundant beauty.

Photo by BitterGrace

To feel and speak the astonishing beauty of things—earth,
          stone and water,
Beast, man and woman, sun, moon and stars—
The blood-shot beauty of human nature, its thoughts,
          frenzies and passions,
And unhuman nature its towering reality—
For man’s half dream; man, you might say, is nature
          dreaming, but rock
And water and sky are constant—to feel
Greatly, and understand greatly, and express greatly, the
Beauty, is the sole business of poetry.
The rest’s diversion: those holy or noble sentiments, the
          intricate ideas,
The love, lust, longing: reasons, but not the reason.

~ Robinson Jeffers, "The Beauty of Things"

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Purely sentimental

Maybe it's age catching up with me, but I'm feeling tender and nostalgic as the holidays approach. I was lucky enough to enjoy some wonderful Christmases when I was a kid, and even though I haven't done much celebrating in recent years, there's still a soft spot in my heart for memory-stirring art and kitsch. Here's a little collection of seasonal images that make me smile. 

 Christmas card of unknown vintage

 Vogue cover, 1921

Russian postcard c. 1914-1917

Mela Koehler (1885-1960)

Christmas Eve, 1959Guy Wiggins (1883-1962)

Christmas card of unknown vintage

Resurrection of the Magi, David Derr (born 1954)

Street Scene, Christmas Morning, Childe Hassam, 1892

One of literary critic Fanny Butcher's Christmas cards

Bird on Snow Covered Berry Branch, Takahashi Biho (1873-?)

Thursday, November 23, 2017

"...the lewd perfume that laughs along innocent limbs"

The Dawn of Love, William Etty, 1828

O maternal love,
heartbreaking for the gold
of bodies suffused
with the secret of wombs.

And beloved unconscious
attitudes of the lewd
perfume that laughs

along innocent limbs.

~ Pier Paolo Pasolini, from "Flesh and Sky"
translated by David Stivender and J.D. McClatchy

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

"...teach him to study the trees"

Olive Trees against a Mountainous Background, Edgar Degas, c. 1890-92


Now that you are leaving, take the boy with you as well,
the boy who saw the light under the plane tree,
one day when trumpets resounded and weapons shone
and the sweating horses
bent to the trough to touch with wet nostrils
the green surface of the water.

The olive trees with the wrinkles of our fathers
the rocks with the wisdom of our fathers
and our brother’s blood alive on the earth
were a vital joy, a rich pattern
for the souls who knew their prayer.

Now that you are leaving, now that the day of payment
dawns, now that no one knows
whom he will kill and how he will die,
take with you the boy who saw the light
under the leaves of that plane tree
and teach him to study the trees.

~ George Seferis, from "Mythistorema"
translated by Edmund Keeley

Listen to David Haskell read a wonderful passage from his book, The Songs of Trees, at Soundcloud

Haskell's website

Seferis interviewed by Keeley for the Paris Review

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A thought for Thanksgiving

Small boys watching the Woodrow Wilson high school cadets, 1943*
Photo by Esther Bubley

"Perhaps the community you have in view is dysfunctional, broken, embarrassing. Perhaps you have a proposal for it? A word of criticism? Come forth with your critique, but you should know, you can't fix what you won't join. There's no healing a community of which you in no way see yourself a part. Maybe criticism and hospitality can be joined at the hip. Maybe they have to be for a conversation to occur. There are so many ways to weave a common life, to hold together that which is in danger of being dismembered. To remember, in this sense, is to no longer stand alone and to aid others in no longer doing so. A critique can be a gift, but it need never be confused for a call to abandon the human circle. Are you bewildered? Others have been here before. And at the heart of bewilderment there can be a seed of compassion." 

Monday, November 20, 2017


Girl with a lizard, Gustave Jacquet (1846-1909)

A lizard does not make a sound,
it has no song,
it does not share my love affairs
with flannel sheets,
bearded men, interlocking
silver rings, the moon, 
the sea, or ink.

Sunday, November 19, 2017


Brooding, Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)

Prompted by a mention of it in a very fine memoir, I tried twice in the past few days to watch Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972), but I just couldn't do it. I could not force myself to keep watching past the first few minutes of that awful scene with Rusk and Brenda Blaney. The moment when she reaches for the phone and he stops her made me feel physically ill, and I had to abandon the film both times. This squeamishness is new. I sat through Frenzy years ago, and while I remember thinking the movie was misogynistic trash, I don't recall being particularly disturbed by it. Now it's suddenly unbearable. Why?

I'm sure it's partly to do with the incessant post-Weinstein conversation about sexual harassment and assault. I've contributed to that chatter myself, and I think the discussion is important, but there's no question that it has stirred up a lot of buried rage and fear for many of us. I've relived experiences over the past few weeks that I would have gladly forgotten forever. Is this healing? I can't say. All I know is it's painful and maddening.

I really think it's part of a much larger sorrow, though. I feel like I'm grieving for the world these days, trying to reconcile myself to my "feast of losses" and not succeeding. Not sure anyone does. What surprises me is that age seems to heighten the capacity to grieve, not lessen it. I feel it all more deeply now than I once did—more deeply than I could have imagined when I was young. Probably because I understand now that none of it is fixable.

You can see the book trailer for Kelly Grey Carlisle's memoir, We Are All Shipwrecks, here.

If you have the stomach for Frenzy, the full movie is currently up on Youtube.