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Sunday, April 14, 2019

Stanley Plumly

I saw an obituary for the poet Stanley Plumly.
I have never read one of his poems.
His work is "not in my field"--loathsome concept.

When I taught at a college in Texas, grad student and friend VC (who was about 45--so 15 years ahead of me) took me to a poetry reading. She had owned a bookstore before returning to school.
SP was a handsome and distinguished fellow. Perhaps he taught at University of Houston at the time.
VC sat next to me with tears running down her face.
It turned out that she--smart, beautiful, and wealthy, though troubled--had had a brief affair with SP. He had spurned her.

That was 35 years ago. VC is close to 80. If we passed in an airport (I have met several people from the past in airports), we would not recognize each other.

I just read a few poems by Stanley Plumly. And a few by one of his wives, who jumped off a building at UMass, dying at 59.

I would like to read his work on Keats. Will I find the time?

Perhaps I should retire.

Infidelity

The two-toned Olds swinging sideways out of
the drive, the bone-white gravel kicked up in
a shot, my mother in the deathseat half

out the door, the door half shut--she’s being
pushed or wants to jump, I don’t remember.
The Olds is two kinds of green, hand-painted,
and blows black smoke like a coal-oil fire. I’m
stunned and feel a wind, like a machine, pass
through me, through my heart and mouth; I’m standing
in a field not fifty feet away, the
wheel of the wind closing the distance.
Then suddenly the car stops and my mother
falls with nothing, nothing to break the fall . . .

One of those moments we give too much to,
like the moment of acknowledgment of
betrayal, when the one who’s faithless has
nothing more to say and the silence is
terrifying since you must choose between
one or the other emptiness. I know
my mother’s face was covered black with blood
and that when she rose she too said nothing.
Language is a darkness pulled out of us.
But I screamed that day she was almost killed,
whether I wept or ran or threw a stone,
or stood stone-still, choosing at last between
parents, one of whom was driving away.

Infidelity

The two-toned Olds swinging sideways out of
the drive, the bone-white gravel kicked up in
a shot, my mother in the deathseat half

out the door, the door half shut--she's being
pushed or wants to jump, I don't remember.
The Olds is two kinds of green, hand-painted,
and blows black smoke like a coal-oil fire. I'm
stunned and feel a wind, like a machine, pass
through me, through my heart and mouth; I'm standing
in a field not fifty feet away, the
wheel of the wind closing the distance.
Then suddenly the car stops and my mother
falls with nothing, nothing to break the fall . . .

One of those moments we give too much to,
like the moment of acknowledgment of
betrayal, when the one who's faithless has
nothing more to say and the silence is
terrifying since you must choose between
one or the other emptiness. I know
my mother's face was covered black with blood
and that when she rose she too said nothing.
Language is a darkness pulled out of us.
But I screamed that day she was almost killed,
whether I wept or ran or threw a stone,
or stood stone-still, choosing at last between
parents, one of whom was driving away.
From Boy on the Step by Stanley Plumly. Copyright © 1989 by Stanley Plumly. Reprinted by permission of The Ecco Press.

Friday, September 21, 2018

About that time my friend and I were victims of sexual assault

Let's see, I was 16. Teri was 15.
We had a club held over our heads.
We got back to Teri's house and called the police.
I was crying as i gave the info to the operator--we had car description, perpetrator description, etc.
We waited for many hours.
The police never showed up.

WE DID NOT TELL OUR PARENTS.

Massapequa NY circa 1970.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

In Between: a Draft

When Tom and I first lived here, we met a very brainy couple. Cara was the daughter of a nurse and a radical lawyer. Cara and Kirk explained to us  a characteristic of Louisiana. They said that to understand Louisiana, we had to understand that there was a small upper class, a giant lower/poverty class, and a relatively small middle class. I don't know if this is statistically true, but it APPEARS to be true.

At the gallery opening, I talked to other people in the middle, teachers mostly. As I wandered around, I overheard bits of conversation. A tough looking guy in a motorcycle teeshirt with cut-off sleeves was talking about a property in Paris that he had looked at for 800,000 euros. Only 1800 square feet, he exclaimed. He must have been the owner of the Harley outside.

Most of the attendees were members of the upper classes: beautifully dressed women, preppily dressed men (except for Mr Harley), who bore themselves with aristocratic self-assurance. Everyone was white.

Earlier that day, I visited the Food Bank Thrift Store (which has recently rebranded as a RESALE store). There I mostly encounter members of the lower classes, some black, some white, and, since Hurricane Katrina, some Hispanic. I have quite a few buddies among the shoppers--we go way back! But their financial struggles are not mine. I try not to mention that I travel to Europe. I call myself a teacher, not a professor. I dress way down.

I do encounter some of the upper classes at the thrift store...erm RESALE store. Based on newspaper coverage, I can say that this is the high status place to volunteer, to serve on the board, and to donate. Recently, a whole fleet of black Mercedes were in the parking lot, including one with an Honorary Consul license plate!

My encounters with the upper classes are with their cast-offs. I have learned a lot from drycleaning tags!

To be continued....maybe


Saturday, September 8, 2018

Just some notes

Tonight we went to an art opening downtown. Our dear real estate agent is the president of the Art Association. He asked us to come. He said there would be a nice set up of cheese and fruit (he knows me).

I always think we don't know anyone around here, having lost most of our friends from the school days of our children. And I feel extremely alienated among the upper-class Trump voters who are the culture vultures here. But in a small town, one knows many people. Even recluses like Tom and me. The artist for instance: he is excellent and I have long admired his work. But I have a little spot of resentment, from something almost 20 years ago. The artist is somehow affiliated with the Benedictine Monastery nearby. I was teaching a Shakespeare course  at the seminary college there. He and another older fellow sat in on the first two sessions--looking extremely bored and almost contemptuous. They threw me off my stride. Of course, they voted with their feet and never returned...

I saw two people we know from school. And a very good artist/teacher who retired some time ago. From afar, I saw a New Orleans cultural bigwig, who always surprises me--he remembers me from a brief period when he ran an Arts Administration program at our school. That memory for people must be why he is so good at his job--in the stratosphere of New Orleans musical culture.

Best of all, I ran into a former student--she is about my age. She must have been in my class more than 20 years ago. A few years ago, I saw one of her pieces in a gallery. It was outstanding! And then there she was. I was surprised that she remembered me. And she was surprised that I remembered her. I run into  her now and again.

Tonight she asked me when I planned to retire. I must have started stuttering...something or other. She told me I should rechannel my creativity and recommended a book called "The War of Art," which is about overcoming resistance to creativity. She suggested that I teach something at the Art Association in retirement. And recommended that I start journaling. Hence this little piece of writing.

I mentioned that idea to my pal the President of the Art Association. He said "Why not do something on poems that are about works of art, like "Ozymandias?" This guy is a fount of unexpected knowledge. We told him that such poems are called "ecphrastic." He is always happy to learn a new word (we had a little tiff recently about the meaning of "penurious"--we were both right.)

I remembered an essay that blew me away in college: "Ecphrasis and the Still Moment of Poetry, or Laocoon Revisited" by Murray Krieger. I found the article because it was mentioned in a footnote in a book by Rosalie Colie, a critic whose works taught me so much about how to read and set me on a path to studying the English Renaissance. Those kind of accidental discoveries--in footnotes, in a book NEXT TO the book you were seeking on a library shelf--were the hallmark of my studies in the days before the internet. And thank God for that, because my students tend to do internet searches for the EXACT thing they are writing on, and seldom if ever wander down the meandering paths of literature and essays on literature . . .  and on other things.

So Ozymandias, Ode on a Grecian Urn, the shield of Achilles, that poem by Auden about the Brueghel painting ("Musee des Beaux Arts")--I'm sure I'll think of some others.

Thanks to Maggie for setting me down this meandering path of memory.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Happy Birthday August 5 2018

August 5 2018: That would have been my father's 90th birthday. Surely, we thought, he would make it. How own father had lived to be almost 100.

Instead, he died suddenly a few months after his 80th birthday. We had a difficult, nay terrible, relationship. I had hoped to find a way to repair or forge a relationship with him that did not devolve into arguments (reading various books recommended--pop psychology), but such was not to be.

Two years ago, my mother, with whom my relationship has been in steady decline also (though once, I thought we were quite close) cornered me in Florida. She said "Your father cried because you didn't talk to him. How does it make you feel to know that you made an old man cry?" That is a very short version of a very long list of accusations.

I responded badly, only thinking of what I should have said later.

My family thinks I should get therapy or at least write things down instead of TALKING ALL THE TIME.  OK.

At his funeral, his cousin Ira spoke. He recited a parable about "the TALL Man." The family is proud of its height--though the gene missed me, it went to both my children.

But then he spoke about my father as "the angry man."

Friday, August 10, 2018

Thank you to my Grandmother for my Wedding Gift

A few summers ago, I remarked upon the enameled cast iron pots that were at the cottage (now sold, a daily source of pain that enters even my dreams). My mother is a committed non-cook and, indeed, they had never been used.

"Oh, Grandma bought them as your wedding gift, but she died before you got married."

I took them home, and now Emma is taking them to her new home in New Orleans. Her name, following religious tradition, even though my family was decidedly NOT observant, is the same as my grandmother's: Emma.

Thanks to my grandmother for a wonderful wedding gift (acknowledged more than 20 years after the event) and for giving my daughter such a beautiful name.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

GTD: Haiku

Once I was at a conference with GTD in Asheville. We went to a hip restaurant with a verrrry long line. We were definitely the oldest people there. I struck up a conversation with the people in front of us. They were members of a rock band. They asked me about G. I said, "He looks like a regular middle-aged guy, but he's really neat. Kind of a Zen Catholic." So taken were they with my description that they invited us to share their table.

G's favorite writer Thomas Merton also had an interest in Buddhism and Japanese culture. It is perhaps no wonder then that G went to teach English in Japan. M was his student and he fell in love with her.

I once asked him how he wooed her. He said "I wrote her a haiku." He proceeded to recite the haiku. It was in JAPANESE. He then recited it in English; it was beautiful even in translation.

One Valentine's Day, G announced to the people in our hall that he wanted to show us the card he got from M. We huddled around. It was a regular looking Valentine's Day card. When he opened it, it played Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."