Monday, May 31, 2010

Tuesday Poem, "Parting from the Winter Stove

"Parting from the Winter Stove
               (A.D. 822)

On the fifth day after the rise of Spring,
Everywhere the season's gracious attitudes!
The white sun gradually lengthening its course,
The blue-grey clouds hanging as though they would fall:
The last icicle breaking into splinters of jade:
The new stems marshalling red sprouts.
The things I meet are all full of gladness;
It is not only I who love the Spring.
To welcome the flowers I stand in the back garden;
To enjoy the sunlight I sit under the front eaves.
Yet still in my heart there lingers one regret;
Soon I shall part with the flame of my red stove!

By Po Chu-I, 772, Born on the 20th of first month to 846, Dies in the eighth month. 
Another from "Chinese Poems" translated by Arthur Waley, a very old paperback that's lost it's spine, the pages wanting to scatter.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Four Steps Forward, Three Back

A week ago yesterday, when I saw the physical therapist, she upped my exercises, put me on the stationary bike at no traction (I could only last six minutes) and said, "Don't lie down, don't lie down, don't lie down."

When I went to see the special, first time since right after I got out of the hospital, I had to admit that I truly hadn't realized how sick I was. And he agreed. I seem to be doing well, though he assured me that another colonoscopy would still show inflammation. The prednisone, now down to 5mg for two weeks and then I'm free of that, will be supported for another six months by Asacol which I've been taking all along. I see him in another three months. And, "Oh, by the way," he said, "don't take what the physical therapist says too seriously." The message was, "You were very sick." I asked if my mind will be back in another month and he couldn't assure me that it will. It all takes time, I gather.

And, after that I had four good days! Walking slowly but without pain. (And lying down when I needed to.) Unfortunately, I did the exercises given to be by the physical therapist. I had been doing them every other day, but thought --- what the hell, I'm feeling good. I should (oh, there is the should that has so poorly guided my life) do them every night. The 4th night, I had an instinct that I shouldn't do them, but I was watching "Biggest Looser," a program that Krissy watches and that causes her to cry. Well, if they are forcing myself, I should, also, I decided, even though it didn't seem to pleasant to lie there, lifting my left leg up and down. 

Since I can NEVER tell if I've injured something until the next day, I didn't know that I wouldn't be able to walk for the next three days without pain and the cane, having transferred the misery to the other buttock.

Naturally, this Friday, as in yesterday, the physical therapist said that she couldn't do much for it but put on heat, ice and some electrical stem because this new injury would need to be evaluated again and she'd need another prescription. (She did a bit of evaluating and it's clearly muscular.) I do understand -- she can't just go poking around if a doctor hasn't seen me, etc. But I could have cried. This time the three days was too tedious. The pain is hardly anything to write home about, but my spirit was a bit broken and I actually felt cranky.

She said that I should cut down the exercises, every two or three days, and don't do this and don't do that one, and don't lie down.

I am better today (at least from noon on, before that it was tough-and-go) probably from the ice, heat and electrical stem. But only slightly. However, I should be walking more easily by tomorrow. 

I haven't put up my Tuesday Poem, read any blogs, done much of anything but lie here for three days and a half days....     

Krissy has a great knack with Craigs List. Amazingly, if you look at the photo of her, you will see a cat carrier in which Mr. White, who she'd been feeding, is happily in here. A capable woman, a cat lover, came, picked that bedraggled old thing with green eyes up by the scruff of the neck, gave it a shake and it immediately fell in love with her and stopped trying to scratch. It folded itself neatly into the carrier and waited patiently until she drove it away. I am in awe of Krissy's ability and glad that she was right, that somebody would be willing to come to the backyard and take that cat away so we could go outside without getting the terrors and wearing boots.

The most interesting book, even though I hardly understood it, that I've read is by Steven Pinker. Fortunately, my supplier, Warren, had an extra so that he's given it to me and I can reread it, underlying certain sections and still not understanding it because grammar is something I picked up by ear. I find it unnatural to follow his very interesting logic.

I've been reading a lot of books that I can't follow, like two by Richard Feynman's, but they are so full of his remarkable spirit, the stubborn clarity of his mind, the curiosity, that I hardly mind that I don't understand the physicals. The Oliver Sachs book about his trip with a group were hunting for fungii in Mexico was equally baffling because I don't know the anything about this distinctive preoccupation (though I love to read things I don't understand and applaud that so many of us are involved in esoteric, specialized preoccupations that we find commonplace). I'm not particularly fond of Sachs, though I once thought I was. He just can't compare in the department of moral clarity that Feynman occupies (pardon me for saying this.) I liked the memoir by Hildegard Knef more than the one by Jill Kerr Conway which made me envious for the confidence I never had when I entered college. (I don't know how to delete the second image of it...but again, what the hell.)

I did get back to editing a very long poemish thing that I wrote that summer, which seems quite strange and remarkable. And hope to get back to reading blogs. And to walking.................................

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Three Month on the Island of Indolence

I think that what had given me a bit of spark, or at least enough to last for a couple of days and lodge itself in my subconscious is that my cane and I reluctantly went to the opening day of Suffolk Downs (coinciding with the Preakness). I would have rather stayed in bed reading, but being at the track has consumed me for the last five years and I could almost remember that feeling. Besides Krissy really wanted to go. She gets a great kick out of (cliche?) betting $2 on some horse that I think has a chance because I know the trainer's history. 

My leg hurt, I could hardly remember the names of the people I knew, I didn't get the rush of joy that I always have when I'm at the races, but somewhere, down in my core, I was dimly happy to be there. 

Opening Day is always crowded. By mid-week, a few people will be there, the old die hards. But it was nice to see a large group of people on this 75th Anniversary of an institution that was once of important to Boston and the presence of many families, out enjoying this pleasant day and nicer to see that ride, Ronnie Prince, who you can just glimpse riding a pony in this photograph. I've known him five years or so. He's one of the folks I video taped and interviewed, a good exercise rider whose getting to be in his late fifties.

Having once again proved that I'm totally ignorant of the simplest and most practical details of life, I was actually surprised with Julie told me that lying down all the time after you've started physical therapy is counter productive if you've provoked your muscles by walking too much (honestly, walking two hours a day, up hills, are you kidding me? When you've been lying down for two months?). "I'm supposed to be up all day?" I didn't say, though I sadly registered the information.

She reminded me of my beloved auto mechanic (who had six children, I think) who chided me after I left my car overnight in his lot with the hazard lights blinking because I couldn't find the button to turn them off, "You are teaching at MIT and you can't figure out this small problem?" And he was right. There's a missing part of my brain, the part that says, "Take it easy" and "Go slow" and "Get up, damn it, don't just lie there."

My next physical therapy appointment is Friday and I can't say that I've done spectacularly well in the staying up department, though I had one day in which I spent five hours of feeling like my self, the self I remember from three months ago. That self worked on the computer for quite a while (Oh, actually, the computer and me, revising, working again!) and walked without the cane and without pain, even if slowly. But she had disappeared by the next day, perhaps because I'd done too much. Or perhaps because the call of reading Richard Feynman's letters was too great. I'd read most of his other books several times when I was in Nova Scotia visiting my parents. Of course, I didn't understand them, my father did, but I couldn't help but fall in love with his exuberant curiosity and enormous intelligence, his love of lock picking and bongo playing, his prankster nature combined with his no-nonsense approach to fame that strangely dovetailed with self-confidence. 

I did get up to go to the dental hygienist yesterday. She's fussed over my teeth since her children were quite young and used to stop by the office on their way home from school. I always liked to make my appointments late in the day so that I'd get to see them and overhear those parent/child conversations about what needed to be done later in the afternoon. Since she poked at my teeth three months ago, she helped her son move to his first real job after college, driving all the way to Ohio with his things. She was just a tad sad to see him go. I was quite pleased that the prednisone had, in some ways, helped the gums, which is not to say that there wasn't some damage done by my having gotten so weak, the electrolytes so out of balance, etc., etc. At least she promised me that she wouldn't go into any damage detail. I got a free pass for that session.

And then we went to Feet of Clay so I can take a leave-of-absence. I've just been paying the monthly fee while I lie here on this island of indolence. I'm not yet ready to start driving, since I've manage to put my right leg out of commission in such a clever way. And when I am back in the driver's seat, the car will head to Suffolk Downs and the barn area.  On Saturday, I was reminded of all the work that I have piled up....lots of video interviews of folks who work on the backside, and transcriptions from then that need to resolve in a book proposal. I have six months to a year of work to do with all that material if I can just get myself moving again. My brain has been extremely slow. And now without the prednisone rush that I got in the middle of the night for many, many weeks, I don't even have the illusion that quick, efficient thinking is possible. Of course, in the middle of the night, when I sprang awake and alive, I just lay there absorbing fascinating Public Broadcasting Programs or reading, so it didn't do me a bit of good in terms of my work...but it was such a nice feeling. Now that I'm down to 10mg a day, that's gone.

I think there will be one more session at the Victoria when I am driven out to finish my grades on Sunday. But then this pleasure will be over. Actually I don't like, have never liked, spending money on restaurants. It seems like such a waste. But I have to admit it's been a very good investment, both for my pleasure of eating and the company of Krissy and Chris who both love to eat out.

Last night I fell asleep early, as has become usual, and woke up in time to see this strange English man on Letterman. He was quite scuzzy looking, definitely shady, too anxious and eager, not all that attractive though I usually like men with very long hair, talking too fast with disconnected sentences (though he had quite a remarkable shirt and tie on). Russel. (Damn, how do you spell that?) It took a while to face that this was Russel Brand, whose book I had read and praised on my blog. And I did like the parts of it that dealt with his perfectly wretched childhood and his father's porn watching obsession that infected his boy at the earliest age. The Cuban in London made some salient comments about what his character really is, but I'd never gotten a glimpse of the person. I'm sorry that I did. In this case, Cuban, you were right, though I still thought parts of the book rang true, hard as that is to believe after seeing a bit of his persona.

Again, I'm very behind on blog reading. I hope to catch up soon and not lie there reading about the brain and early childhood language formation.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Tuesday Poem, "Caught on Memory, Art Students' League, 1957"

Caught on Memory, Art Students' League, 1957

A blind salmon swimming
after my older brother,
I pluck a name from the catalogue.
George Grosz. I know enough
to know he's famous,
but not for what. And from Germany,
soon to repatriate. Gill hooked. First
day of class, stationed by the door,
newsprint pad propped against easel,
I gasp as the male nude strikes
two-minute poses. Legs wide, calf muscles
taut, arms stretched overhead.
Leaning left, fingers spread.
My charcoal breaks.
Five poses, ten, warm-up
for a long study
of his lean buttocks, the black
stool on which he rests one heel.
A group clusters, teacher hidden,
words inaudible, then swarms
as he moves to another
drawing, coming closer until
the small man, arm lifted to correct
foreshortening, thick marks on a timid sketch,
is revealed. He catches my eyes,
stares, unblinking.
                                It's hours
before he looks away
and I grab my tablet, leave 
the room, never to return.

This was published in an extremely small journal called "Purple Patch" in London. The editor just Xeroxes whatever he's accepted and shoves it in rather haphazardly.

I've always been fond of finding subversive or radical, very unconventional, places to send poems. My first work was published in "Struggle," a small radical  journal that I've always liked. That editor sometimes sends me notes written in the most beautiful handwriting. He's true to his philosophy, a blue-collar worker who supports his political ideals. I quite admire him, Tim Hall.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tuesday Poem, "A Little Love"

A Little Love

Tell me you can manage without love
When you fling yourself into the barbed wire of life.
Tell me you can manage without love
When you stake out the stations of Calvary.
Tell me you can manage without love
When you bite on the green fruit of experience.
Tell me you can manage without love
When you celebrate eternal glories,
Or tell the beads of joy, of smiles.
Tell me that, tell me all that,
And I will tell you what your misery weighs.

A. Kanie (1952)

From the book, "French African Verse" with English translations by John Reed and Clive Wake
published by Heinemann, London, Ibadan, Nairobi

This is from a collection that a friend gave me when he sorted his books before moving to another condo. I particularly responded the two poems by A. Kanie which were included. I am not a grand fan of metaphors since they are so easy for me to step over and dodge around as I read and because I'm so plain spoken, but I found this piece and his other poem about racism clear enough to me to understand and deeply appreciate.

Anoma Kanie, Ivory Coast, published Les eaux du Comoe, Editions du Miroir, Paris, 1952.
 (I'm not able to include the proper accents on the e's in Comoe or Editions.)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Oh, Oh, Oh, Ouch

I hadn't really known J. in high school, though her cousin, who lived a couple of blocks from me, was my best friend -- he was as shy as I was, but neither of us could hang up from our long nightly phone calls. The most beautiful night I've experienced was when we'd walked down hill to the beach, came upon the shore dotted with phosphorescence, twinkling and starish. He left for Harvard a year before I graduated from high school.

But a couple of years ago, near the time of our 50th reunion, J. came into Boston on the way to visit her son and grandson in London and we met at a hotel near the airport, had dinner and had a chance to talk. When she arranged a small gathering of folks from that reunion not all that long ago, I went up to Portland, kicking and screaming with nervousness, and had a marvelous, informative and quite curative time.

So, I was delighted when she was staying at the same hotel this Wednesday and we had time to talk again. By this time, I had gone to the doctor because I was squealing with pain. Finally, with the help of smart, practical friends, I had figured out that my precipitous walking, knowing no bounds, constantly pushing myself longer and longer and uphill at that, had caused the damage. My first question to the doctor was whether he had a sense of humor. "Yes." But I have to say that he found it hard to laugh at what I've done to myself (even though I find it very funny), telling me that it's unprofessional to make fun of a person who was such a dope that she'd not factored in that she'd been lying down two months, then began walking like a maniac. The upshot was that I left there with a prescription to physical therapy and instructions to buy a cane.

I had planned to drive myself to meet J., but with orders not to drive, much less to walk, I got dropped off around 4:00 and picked up at 9 something. With my cane. We were quiet a pair because J's recent operation to mend the continual pain in her back didn't fix the problems, so she's in the holding pattern, waiting for a diagnosis about what will happen next that might alleviate her constant discomfort. She can stand and walk, more-or-less, though lying down is painful. I can lie down and stand, if I can get up, but not walk. But we could talk for 5 hours, non-stop. 

She has a marvelous way of calmly analyzing difficult situations she has faced. I could ask her any question I wanted and she would quietly discussing it. We time-traveled from the time her mother gave her "The Story Didn't Bring You" when she was ten or so, young enough to laugh with her best friend about all those strange things that would happen. (No, her mother didn't discuss the book with her, but at least J's nervousness about this information would be shared with someone else. And well before the fact. Whereas my father handed me the book on the fateful day there was blood in my pajama bottoms. My mother was in the hospital for a last ditch experimental treatment. He told me to read it, then went off to work, but of course I didn't. And I lied to the pediatrician when she asked if I had. I gather that the book was the talisman of that era, a way of informing girls about the unspoken.) 

And after drifting into lots of other directions, we discussed strategies for pain management. A number of years ago I went to a pain clinic to deal with fibromyalgia and learned a number of techniques, one of which is using relaxation tapes. Pooling management strategies of our specific discomforts started in the restaurant under the guise of just having something to drink and lingered on to the least offensive meal in the restaurant. 

I had an appointment with the physical therapist the next day and she was getting up at 4am in the hope that the airport in London was open, in spite of new volcanic eruptions. 

Since, in spite of my careful attempt to manage where the pictures would land in the blog, they are as out-of-order as I am right now. So the white cat is Krissy's new project.  I hadn't noticed when he appeared in the yard about the time that Parker visited, assuming that she was merely feeding one of the old strays that have lived outside in this neighborhood for years, through hard, hard winters. But this is a new creature that she's sure lived in an old lady's apartment a couple of blocks away, in a building that was condemned not that long ago. And she's determined to find a home for him and puts out food near the back porch even though she now has to wear boots and long pants when she goes outside because he's taken to biting. She's put an ad on Craig's List, certain that people who rescue feral or abandoned cats will come and get it. (Actually, someone is coming tomorrow to get Mr. White, she hopes, so there's probably an answer to her particular problem of hardly being able to go out to the garden.)

She's a determined rescuer, having started with Paco a puppy found in a dumpster in a Hollywood studio, going on to Happy, found on a street in L.A., to Ella, her favorite dog, sick with cancer when she was found, incontinent for the three years that she lived, the most beloved.

I got to photograph the cat because I had the compulsive urge to clip some ivy when I got back from the physical therapist where I'd been told, to my great relief, that the problem with my back is just muscular, caused, you guessed it, by having started to walk to far, and up hills, no less, after my muscles had become too weak to hold up the pelvic area that attaches to the hip bones. Even if I'd had strong core muscles they would have been useless by then. So, I was given exercises to build up strength, told to use heat and cold treatments, not to use the cane inside and got one of those wonderful electrical stem treatments that put me in such a state that I truly believed I could bend to work in the garden! A little.

I have joined the community garden in Chelsea, though I'm even less able to work in it than I thought I would be by now. But Krissy has been helping me, walking over to till and plant seeds almost every morning. I hope she might be able to get a plot, but it's great that she'd sharing mine now, doing so much work there.

A couple of days ago, VesperSparrow e-mailed me, "I know you don't like fussing, but has something happened?" Clever Lady. What had happened is the result of my bull-head determination. But her inquiry reminded me of a story that my father once told about when I had started to crawl and came up against a swinging door that I was determined to get through. He must have been sitting there, probably in the kitchen of a house they'd rented before buying the house my mother loved so much on Litchfield Road. He said I crawled up to it, push at the door, only to have it come back and hit me every time I tried. The implication, though I don't remember his exact words, was that I wasn't going to stop trying, no matter how many times I got banged around. That's just the sort of dilemma that amused him. Since my father almost never talked about the years before my mother died when I was twelve, this story must have illustrated how pigheaded, his term for me, for what I've always been.

On Monday, I was back at square one with Krissy accompanying me up to class where she commandeered a student, "Will you walk her downstairs after class?" So, at 4:00, there I was, being taken along by this marvelous extrovert who mentioned that she's getting married on August. T. was born in the South and has that charming ability to engage the crankiest person. Her grandmother had 20 children, twins and triplets, and T. fully expected to have ten using the same method. But she only had three separates, girls, the youngest of whom started college last fall. Somehow, between the Photo I that I taught and she took last summer, she met a man (also interested in the arts, who talks and laughs), whose wife died three years ago, leaving him to raise the youngest of their seven children who was then fifteen. So, T. will have her ten children in not that long. After I knocked into a wall, she took my arm, so I was literally 'walked,' embarrassed and humbled at my tottering and T's holding onto my arm, but thoroughly enjoying the terrific story.

We have one more dinner at the Victoria after my last class on Monday!

W. has become my supplier of books, since I've pretty well gone through my shelves. The first one that he lent was the massive M.F.K. Fisher that included 4 or five books, the most charming of which was "Gastronomical Me." I've never been interested in food or in cooking, but I have to say, there are good writers. Krissy returns what I've read and he send over another four or five.

Relaxation tapes do help! Now I have to keep playing them. The only good thing I have to say about my learning curve is that after my last bout in physical therapy, two summers ago, I did the prescribed back exercises almost every night until the point I got this colitis attack in February. So I had learned something, lacking in common sense as I happen to be.

There's hope.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tuesday Poem, "The Real Story"

The Real Story

"I could never have slept
with him," you say
from three thousand miles.
"I'm not 
criticizing but you
must have 
hated yourself
to do it."
How can I tell her
what her father once was:
gifted, elegant,
pale brown skin,
that occasional smile.
I walked past him
through swinging doors
carrying heavy trays,
princess of faculty dining.
I remembered
who took coffee
with milk
and who drank tea;
he was prince of all the rest,
tables of students,
the waiters he commanded
with a nod.
He sat aloof but
in control.
You tell me, "He's bald
and old and ugly
of character.
He was gone before he went."
I want to
persuade you he was once
so fascinating
I never imagined
he'd even 
talk to me.

from "The Real Story," a chapbook,