Thursday, February 12, 2009

Valentine’s Day Ire

You’ve heard it plenty, I’m sure—the lament that Valentine’s Day is just a holiday invented for the greedy greeting card industry, and therefore the speaker refuses to participate out of righteous resistance to such outrageous manipulation.

Is this really so horrible?

A day to remind someone you love that you care? How is this any worse than the traditions surrounding birthdays or Christmas? What’s the big deal? Participate or not, as you choose. The need to pontificate against it, though, suggests more than greeting cards are at issue.

It is a curious holiday, to be sure. After all, it’s named for a Roman priest who brought lovers to marriage in trying circumstances, and the date is the anniversary not of his birth, but of his execution. Interesting omen.

Like other modern holidays, this one falls on or between solstices and equinoxes, replacing pagan celebrations with Christian counterparts. Lupercalia, celebrated Feb. 15, featured sacrificed animals, from which the priests cut thongs for whipping all the women they encountered, to ensure fertility. A BDSM holiday.

Or perhaps you prefer the Juno Februata festival, Feb. 13 and 14, featuring boys drawing the names of girls from a hat. Valentine’s Day, in English folklore, is the day birds begin mating. So all in all, a very, um, practical, get-down-to-business kind of holiday. The courtly love tradition of the High Middle Ages whittled this down to choosing a sweetheart. So much for progress.

But detractors can still revel in a romantic priest’s martyrdom, and the massacre of seven gang members in a North side Chicago garage in a hail of seventy sub-machine gun bullets and two shotgun blasts on the morning of Feb. 14, 1929.

Just in case you don’t care for chocolate, flowers, greeting cards, fertility, erotic flogging, astronomy, romantic/sexual partners, or the mating habits of birds.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Diving into the Wreck

by Adrienne Rich

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and away into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.


I was thinking through feelings and thoughts, sorting through what I want to say, but find I can't really add much to what Rich has already so eloquently said. I keep fruitlessly working at it. Somehow it helps. The wreck and not the story of the wreck. Not sure how. It just does.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Pain and Peace by Moonlight

Yesterday, as I went skiing just after work, I came across a clearing I’ve seen hundreds of times before. A bad storm cleared this bit of forest a few years ago, leaving piles of trees like badly hacked grass. Even today, we’ve really just become accustomed to the turns around some still downed trees.

On that particular evening, though, as the sun set through the spruce behind them, several remaining dead trees stood highlighted, jagged and tall, rough sentinels to the almost forgotten storm, abrupt reminders that the “clearing,” while lighter than the surrounding forest, is not truly clear--and it never has been.

Things long since settled, almost forgotten, appear unbidden, apparitions dragging their shadowy history, rattling never attached chains in mockery. Past pain is suddenly present, and for no apparent reason, no visible trigger, and without welcome. Not as clear as it seemed. The jagged sentinels stand witness, the past not truly past, remnants of ancient storms uncleared.

Tonight, darkness beat me to Stoney Pond, but with a clear sky and a bright moon overhead, I decided to ski anyway. With slick, sleet-like conditions, the skiing was fast and not a little harried at times, especially tethered to a husky…but I’m glad I went, despite some spills. It was such a peaceful night, the forest so beautiful, a great night for a leisurely ski, just letting thoughts slowly sort themselves out, if not resolve anything.

I think about the quiet, watching the moonlit trail. I think of sharing these experiences, how nice it would be, how odd that so many people would think it strange, or place it beyond anything they’d want to do. Some paths just seem to want to be traveled alone.

Why is that, I wonder. People wonder why they can’t find love, for instance, but the truth is they don’t want it--they would rather be independent. The song “Nature Boy” is correct: “The hardest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love”--and here’s the hard part--“and be loved in return.” Or more specifically, to allow ourselves to be loved in return. Joni Mitchell is right: “And you love your loving…not like you love your freedom.”

I look at the stars again, back at the car, and strap my husky in the back seat. She’s an independent creature too--but she’s also a pack animal, one who knows without thinking she belongs with others. Humans are also social animals. Why do we fight it so?

A couple times in my past I disappeared for a while, not even close friends knowing for sure where I was or how to contact me. Just time for me and my thoughts, finding myself, sorting things out. I’m starting to feel the need to do it again.


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Our own brand of magic

Perfection Wasted
by John Updike

And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market —
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That’s it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren’t the same.

– 1990

Thank you to all those who have shared and continue to share your magic with me and have allowed me to share my own with you. That subtle, easily missed perfection will never be wasted. Not on me, not on us.