It’s dark when the cats wake me up in the morning and it’s dark earlier and earlier every evening. As much as I love the lingering summer sunlight, I also really love the winter darkness. Someone once said that people fear Witches because Witches aren’t afraid of the dark. I think that’s partly correct. We may have a healthy fear of what’s in the darkness, but we’re not afraid of the darkness itself.
To me, the darkness feels like a friend, a comforting presence. When I’m inside, the darkness feels like a warm shawl, enveloping me in its embrace — the perfect foil for the pool of lamplight on my desk. When I go outside to see the Moon and stars (which seem so much closer up here in the mountains and are so much brighter away from the lights of the city), the darkness feels like a clear, bracing tonic — fresh air filling my lungs.
Dylan Thomas wrote about saying some words to the “close and holy darkness” before going to sleep and that’s maybe the best description I’ve read of the way the darkness feels as we move ever forward into Yule.
Lots of guru-types encourage us to have a regular gratitude practice. We’re urged to keep a gratitude journal or jar, to be observant, to notice one particular thing per day, to affirm the good in our lives, to recognize the role that other people have in bringing good into our lives, to ask ourselves three questions, to share our gratitude with others, to make a vow, to watch our language, to use visual reminders, to create gratitude rituals, to “pay it forward,” to regularly tell people in our lives what they mean to us. And all this will, we’re assured, help us feel more alive, make us sleep better, raise our self-esteem, encourage positive emotions, help us feel more connected, strengthen our immune systems, help us make friends, make us more compassionate and empathetic.
The thing is, sometimes gratitude is really fucking hard.
Yeah, if you’re reading this, like me, you’re still alive nearly two years into the pandemic.
So good on us.
But there’s been so much loss.
Not just the 775,000 (and counting) dead people in the US alone, although that’s a big one.
Many relationships that may have been hanging by a thread – or worse – after four years of Trump have suffered death blows due to right wing insanity about COVID-19 and vaccinations.
Businesses have closed. Jobs have been lost. Milestones have passed unmarked and un-celebrated.
So, yes, of course, try to remember and be thankful for the good in your life. But if that’s REALLY hard right now, that’s OK, too. I give you – and myself – permission to cut us a break and try again tomorrow.
Friends, will you bear with me today, for I have awakened from a dream in which a robin made with its shabby wings a kind of veil behind which it shimmied and stomped something from the south of Spain, its breast aflare, looking me dead in the eye from the branch that grew into my window, coochie-cooing my chin, the bird shuffling its little talons left, then right, while the leaves bristled against the plaster wall, two of them drifting onto my blanket while the bird opened and closed its wings like a matador giving up on murder, jutting its beak, turning a circle, and flashing, again, the ruddy bombast of its breast by which I knew upon waking it was telling me in no uncertain terms to bellow forth the tubas and sousaphones, the whole rusty brass band of gratitude not quite dormant in my belly— it said so in a human voice, “Bellow forth”— and who among us could ignore such odd and precise counsel?
Hear ye! hear ye! I am here to holler that I have hauled tons—by which I don’t mean lots, I mean tons — of cowshit and stood ankle deep in swales of maggots swirling the spent beer grains the brewery man was good enough to dump off holding his nose, for they smell very bad, but make the compost writhe giddy and lick its lips, twirling dung with my pitchfork again and again with hundreds and hundreds of other people, we dreamt an orchard this way, furrowing our brows, and hauling our wheelbarrows, and sweating through our shirts, and two years later there was a party at which trees were sunk into the well-fed earth, one of which, a liberty apple, after being watered in was tamped by a baby barefoot with a bow hanging in her hair biting her lip in her joyous work and friends this is the realest place I know, it makes me squirm like a worm I am so grateful, you could ride your bike there or roller skate or catch the bus there is a fence and a gate twisted by hand, there is a fig tree taller than you in Indiana, it will make you gasp. It might make you want to stay alive even, thank you;
and thank you for not taking my pal when the engine of his mind dragged him to swig fistfuls of Xanax and a bottle or two of booze, and thank you for taking my father a few years after his own father went down thank you mercy, mercy, thank you for not smoking meth with your mother oh thank you thank you for leaving and for coming back, and thank you for what inside my friends’ love bursts like a throng of roadside goldenrod gleaming into the world, likely hauling a shovel with her like one named Aralee ought, with hands big as a horse’s, and who, like one named Aralee ought, will laugh time to time til the juice runs from her nose; oh thank you for the way a small thing’s wail makes the milk or what once was milk in us gather into horses huckle-buckling across a field;
and thank you, friends, when last spring the hyacinth bells rang and the crocuses flaunted their upturned skirts, and a quiet roved the beehive which when I entered were snugged two or three dead fist-sized clutches of bees between the frames, almost clinging to one another, this one’s tiny head pushed into another’s tiny wing, one’s forelegs resting on another’s face, the translucent paper of their wings fluttering beneath my breath and when a few dropped to the frames beneath: honey; and after falling down to cry, everything’s glacial shine.
And thank you, too. And thanks for the corduroy couch I have put you on. Put your feet up. Here’s a light blanket, a pillow, dear one, for I can feel this is going to be long. I can’t stop my gratitude, which includes, dear reader, you, for staying here with me, for moving your lips just so as I speak. Here is a cup of tea. I have spooned honey into it.
And thank you the tiny bee’s shadow perusing these words as I write them. And the way my love talks quietly when in the hive, so quietly, in fact, you cannot hear her but only notice barely her lips moving in conversation. Thank you what does not scare her in me, but makes her reach my way. Thank you the love she is which hurts sometimes. And the time she misremembered elephants in one of my poems which, oh, here they come, garlanded with morning glory and wisteria blooms, trombones all the way down to the river. Thank you the quiet in which the river bends around the elephant’s solemn trunk, polishing stones, floating on its gentle back the flock of geese flying overhead.
And to the quick and gentle flocking of men to the old lady falling down on the corner of Fairmount and 18th, holding patiently with the softest parts of their hands her cane and purple hat, gathering for her the contents of her purse and touching her shoulder and elbow; thank you the cockeyed court on which in a half-court 3 vs. 3 we oldheads made of some runny-nosed kids a shambles, and the 61-year-old after flipping a reverse lay-up off a back door cut from my no-look pass to seal the game ripped off his shirt and threw punches at the gods and hollered at the kids to admire the pacemaker’s scar grinning across his chest; thank you the glad accordion’s wheeze in the chest; thank you the bagpipes.
Thank you to the woman barefoot in a gaudy dress for stopping her car in the middle of the road and the tractor trailer behind her, and the van behind it, whisking a turtle off the road. Thank you god of gaudy. Thank you paisley panties. Thank you the organ up my dress. Thank you the sheer dress you wore kneeling in my dream at the creek’s edge and the light swimming through it. The koi kissing halos into the glassy air. The room in my mind with the blinds drawn where we nearly injure each other crawling into the shawl of the other’s body. Thank you for saying it plain: fuck each other dumb.
And you, again, you, for the true kindness it has been for you to remain awake with me like this, nodding time to time and making that noise which I take to mean yes, or, I understand, or, please go on but not too long, or, why are you spitting so much, or, easy Tiger hands to yourself. I am excitable. I am sorry. I am grateful. I just want us to be friends now, forever. Take this bowl of blackberries from the garden. The sun has made them warm. I picked them just for you. I promise I will try to stay on my side of the couch.
And thank you the baggie of dreadlocks I found in a drawer while washing and folding the clothes of our murdered friend; the photo in which his arm slung around the sign to “the trail of silences”; thank you the way before he died he held his hands open to us; for coming back in a waft of incense or in the shape of a boy in another city looking from between his mother’s legs, or disappearing into the stacks after brushing by; for moseying back in dreams where, seeing us lost and scared he put his hand on our shoulders and pointed us to the temple across town;
and thank you to the man all night long hosing a mist on his early-bloomed peach tree so that the hard frost not waste the crop, the ice in his beard and the ghosts lifting from him when the warming sun told him sleep now; thank you the ancestor who loved you before she knew you by smuggling seeds into her braid for the long journey, who loved you before he knew you by putting a walnut tree in the ground, who loved you before she knew you by not slaughtering the land; thank you who did not bulldoze the ancient grove of dates and olives, who sailed his keys into the ocean and walked softly home; who did not fire, who did not plunge the head into the toilet, who said stop, don’t do that; who lifted some broken someone up; who volunteered the way a plant birthed of the reseeding plant is called a volunteer, like the plum tree that marched beside the raised bed in my garden, like the arugula that marched itself between the blueberries, nary a bayonet, nary an army, nary a nation, which usage of the word volunteer familiar to gardeners the wide world made my pal shout “Oh!” and dance and plunge his knuckles into the lush soil before gobbling two strawberries and digging a song from his guitar made of wood from a tree someone planted, thank you;
thank you zinnia, and gooseberry, rudbeckia and pawpaw, Ashmead’s kernel, cockscomb and scarlet runner, feverfew and lemonbalm; thank you knitbone and sweetgrass and sunchoke and false indigo whose petals stammered apart by bumblebees good lord please give me a minute… and moonglow and catkin and crookneck and painted tongue and seedpod and johnny jump-up; thank you what in us rackets glad what gladrackets us;
and thank you, too, this knuckleheaded heart, this pelican heart, this gap-toothed heart flinging open its gaudy maw to the sky, oh clumsy, oh bumblefucked, oh giddy, oh dumbstruck, oh rickshaw, oh goat twisting its head at me from my peach tree’s highest branch, balanced impossibly gobbling the last fruit, its tongue working like an engine, a lone sweet drop tumbling by some miracle into my mouth like the smell of someone I’ve loved; heart like an elephant screaming at the bones of its dead; heart like the lady on the bus dressed head to toe in gold, the sun shivering her shiny boots, singing Erykah Badu to herself leaning her head against the window;
and thank you the way my father one time came back in a dream by plucking the two cables beneath my chin like a bass fiddle’s strings and played me until I woke singing, no kidding, singing, smiling, thank you, thank you, stumbling into the garden where the Juneberry’s flowers had burst open like the bells of French horns, the lily my mother and I planted oozed into the air, the bazillion ants labored in their earthen workshops below, the collard greens waved in the wind like the sails of ships, and the wasps swam in the mint bloom’s viscous swill;
and you, again you, for hanging tight, dear friend. I know I can be long-winded sometimes. I want so badly to rub the sponge of gratitude over every last thing, including you, which, yes, awkward, the suds in your ear and armpit, the little sparkling gems slipping into your eye. Soon it will be over,
which is precisely what the child in my dream said, holding my hand, pointing at the roiling sea and the sky hurtling our way like so many buffalo, who said it’s much worse than we think, and sooner; to whom I said no duh child in my dreams, what do you think this singing and shuddering is, what this screaming and reaching and dancing and crying is, other than loving what every second goes away? Goodbye, I mean to say. And thank you. Every day.
At some point in late elementary or early middle school I read Ray Bradbury‘s short story All Summer in a Day and it has stayed with me more than almost any other short story. (I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream and The Nine Billion Names of God are two others and I guess you can see the direction of my misspent youth.) In the story, there’s only a very short time period when sunshine is visible on Venus, which has not too long ago been colonized by people from Earth. Miss that period and you’re out of luck for the longest time.
I was thinking about that story today.
Back in June there was a short period where COVID numbers were going down. People were getting vaccinated. It felt as if it were safe to start living again. I got together with my beloved family and with dear friends. I went to Wegmans. I watched one of G/Son’s baseball games. I went to an exhibit at the local museum.
And, then, the delta variant hit. I went back into semi-lockdown. Yes, I’m vaccinated (and now boosted). But I’m a breast cancer survivor who’s done chemo and radiation. I have some co-morbidities. Even breakthrough cases of COVID can leave you with long-term symptoms and I didn’t finally manage to retire just to get sick and disabled. My area is only 45% vaccinated (thanks, Trump!).
Since getting boosted, I’ve seen a few friends, had a few meetings of local politicos at my home, made one Wegman’s run. But I’m still being very cautious. And watching the numbers trend up, not just here, but in Europe (which is usually a bit ahead of us), I got to thinking about All Summer in a Day.
It may be that the “new normal,” at least for the next few years, is that we get a month or so in summer to more or less live as we did pre-COVID and that we then shut down again. I understand that a lot of people are just done. They’ve gotten vaxxed and boosted and they are tired of COVID and they are just going to live their lives and hope that if they do have a breakthrough case it’s not too bad. Who knows, I could get to that stage at some point. But, for now, I’m looking at another winter of isolation and trying to figure out how I use that to be the Witch of This Place.
In Bradbury’s story, Margot writes, “ I think the sun is a flower / That blooms for just one hour. ” Maybe Margot needed to learn to see beyond the sun. How does Margot stay unbroken?
I started this last night and it’s better than I expected. A youth spent reading A LOT of fantasy has left me somewhat jaded; after a while you’ve seen “this” plot and “this” plot device before. (I haven’t read the books behind this series.) Wheel of Time is well-acted and does a fair job of giving you the details you need to understand this world while moving the story along.
If I have one gripe, it’s not just with this movie but a general complaint. I get very bored with long fight or chase scenes. We’ve all seen the good guys fight the trolls and, no, your troll fight just isn’t that much different. Generally, you could put up a caption: “Here, a very long fight occurs, but the good guys win in the end,” and I’d be fine with it.
I’m definitely looking forward to further installments.
World Pancreatic Cancer Day was actually *yesterday*, November 18. However, a dear friend of mine of more than 25 years was recently diagnosed, and one of the things he’s asked his circle to do is to help raise awareness.
Part of the reason that pancreatic cancer is so deadly is that it doesn’t have a whole lot of warning signs, so it’s mostly not caught until it’s late-stage.
My friend is lucky – he’d recently been diagnosed with diabetes and so had a medical team paying close attention to what was going on with the gastrointestinal tract. They were able to quickly do surgery, he’s now started chemo, and we’re all cautiously optimistic he’ll at least get enough years to see his first-year daughter graduate college and get launched.
(New-onset diabetes is, in fact, one of the markers.)
If you have a first-degree relative (parent, child, sibling) who’s had pancreatic cancer, experts recommend you have genetic biomarker testing performed.
Learn what else you can do to raise awareness of this often deadly, but treatable if it’s caught early, disease.
Just over the horizon a great machine of death is roaring and rearing. We can hear it always. Earthquake, starvation, the ever-renewing sump of corpse-flesh. But in this valley the snow falls silently all day, and out our window We see the curtain of it shifting and folding, hiding us away in our little house, We see earth smoothened and beautified, made like a fantasy, the snow-clad trees So graceful. In our new bed, which is big enough to seem like the north pasture almost With our two cats, Cooker and Smudgins, lying undisturbed in the southeastern and southwestern corners, We lie loving and warm, looking out from time to time. “Snowbound,” we say. We speak of the poet Who lived with his young housekeeper long ago in the mountains of the western province, the kingdom Of cruelty, where heads fell like wilted flowers and snow fell for many months Across the pass and drifted deep in the vale. In our kitchen the maple-fire murmurs In our stove. We eat cheese and new-made bread and jumbo Spanish olives Which have been steeped in our special brine of jalapeños and garlic and dill and thyme. We have a nip or two from the small inexpensive cognac that makes us smile and sigh. For a while we close the immense index of images that is our lives—for instance, The child on the Mescalero reservation in New Mexico sitting naked in 1966 outside his family’s hut, Covered with sores, unable to speak. But of course we see the child every day, We hold out our hands, we touch him shyly, we make offerings to his implacability. No, the index cannot close. And how shall we survive? We don’t and cannot and will never Know. Beyond the horizon a great unceasing noise is undeniable. The machine, Like an immense clanking vibrating shuddering unnameable contraption as big as a house, as big as the whole town, May break through and lurch into our valley at any moment, at any moment. Cheers, baby. Here’s to us. See how the curtain of snow wavers and then falls back.