Reading Mary Oliver to the dog

Reading Mary Oliver to the dog

Our friend Rebecca sent over a book she found in the cast-off pile in the St. Albans dump. It is Dog Songs, by Mary Oliver. After dinner, we settle our dog on the couch between us and read her poems. One begins, “a puppy is a puppy is a puppy.” She looks off to the distant kitchen. Our dog has not heard of Gertrude Stein, I can tell.

We try another poem. Here’s how it goes:

PERCY

Our new dog, named for the beloved poet,

ate a book which unfortunately we had

left unguarded.

Fortunately, it was the Bhagavad Gita

of which many copies are available.

Every day now, as Percy grows

into the beauty of his life, we touch

his wild, curly head and say,

“Oh, wisest of little dogs.”

Our old dog put a paw on my chest and said, “When I (unfortunately) ate your new Folio collectable edition of Moby-Dick, you were not so generous.”

water and fire

water and fire

News of the day, one run on sentence

When the American president assassinates an Iranian General, Iran lobs missiles at a US army base. No one gets hurt, except for what is dismissed as headaches, as in ‘we can assassinate your hero but you can only cause us a headache.’  But later we learn that 50 troops are treated for brain damage. Moments later, a civilian aircraft on its way to Ukraine crashes just after take off, killing 176, mostly Ukrainians and Iranian Canadians. Iran blames failed mechanics, the airline, Boeing and the US. Thousands of Iranians gather to mourn their General and hate us. Too many, because there is a stampede where people are trampled to death. Meanwhile, a video is released. Here is the plane, here is the missile, here is the impact. Iran says whoops, our bad, egregious error. Now the protesters turn on their own government.

Trump issues statements: we will destroy your culture and the American people love you and want you to flourish. I wonder: what kind of love is it that destroys your culture? But then, videos begin downloading and I am distracted. Australia is burning. Firefighters in shorts cradle Koala Bears wearing hand knit booties over their burned paws. They are wrapped in blankets called Johnny Pouches knit by prisoners. They knit and knit until Australia is overwhelmed. There are billions of animal deaths. My brain crackles. This is a local extinction. And while I sit there, stunned, Puerto Rico is wracked by earthquakes and then a volcano erupts in the Philippines, and somewhere else, people holding babies and blankets make their way through water up to their waists while dogs swim around in circles.

Burning forests, flooding banks. The ground beneath splits like a melon.

Here it is clouds, freezing rain. The landscape waits silently under layers of ice. I sit in front of a fire at a table cubing the meat of an animal who has spent its short, bucolic life in a field eating grass until it is murdered just for me. Under the table, two elderly dogs lie romp-to-romp. I’ve never been to Australia, Ukraine, Iran. but I can imagine. Under the burning brush, new life, although it is difficult to celebrate because, at the same time, we are the burning bush.

Until AOC grows up….

Until AOC grows up….

She’s amazing, beautiful, effective, fearless and from the Bronx, right?

We’re heading East on pot-holed roads to raid a friend’s perennial garden. A quietly lovely afternoon, all the trees are green, the lake is high and rippling, the mountains drop backwards in perfect pespective, old orchards bloom white, as if covered in moths. Vermont is at its most perfect. We’re hurrying through the poorest county in our little state, one of the prettiest, wanting to get back before the evening’s predicted rain and wind, and we’re talking about the future, or rather that grim possibility of the world without us. Actually, I don’t know if it’s grim. Our species is doing a terrible job.

So I ask; At this particular moment, this exact instance in which we believe humans have gone over the tipping point to the downside where ruin is inevitable, who exactly would you pick for the Democratic candidate? And when he looks at me sideways, like who cares, it doesn’t matter, I said, I’m disgusted with Biden, that he’s Hillary Redo and yes, maybe she won the popular vote but lost the electoral collage, and Biden will do the same, Trump will win, and I hope…Yes, he said, putting a hand on my knee. We will be dead and you know what, that’s OK with me.

I still am hooked on Bernie, I say, squeezing his thumb. I love the guy, although we’re the same age, he reminds me of my leftist, moralistic, intransigent, dad. So right now at this ridiculous moment I would pick Bernie, with Elizabeth Warren as his Vice because she needs to be President. She will yell and taunt billionaire white men, biding time for AOC to grow up. AOC will win by a landslide with Mayor Pete as her Vice. By then, one half of humans will have murdered the other half plus viruses and who knows, plagues, fascists, Trump Jr., elephant extinctions, Fox news, anti-vaxers, twitter wars, Cabinet members who believe in the Rapture, black holes, Match.com, and if the planet can still sustain us, who knows…my voice trails because I will be long dead so really, who cares who I vote for. My future is now while the Millenial futures unspool in scenarios yet unknown..

We were turning into the first St. Albans exit now and heading towards Fairfax. Past McDonalds and the Hannaford Mall, the Dollar store, TJ Max, Guys Farm and Yard, The Veterinary Service. On the left is a huge and well maintained, possibly new and very red barn, with a clump of cows waiting patiently at the door dreaming perhaps of a nice quiet stall, certainly not of slaughter.


Here on the pond

Here on the pond

Cleaning out the Lilly beds too soon, it really was too cold, still damp, wet, the ground frozen beneath mud. She should have raked out the dead leaves in the fall, but November had been dark and cold, and already they were cocooning indoors. Winter had come too quickly just as it was leaving too slowly, (too soon, too slow, what was not too soon? Too slow?) So now, on this raw afternoon, she stood with a rake thinking it over. The sky was leaden, quilted by gray clouds, dripping rain, but not really rain, not yet, that wouldn’t happen until dark. It was almost dark. Coming quickly, this dark, a feeling of sky tightening air around her. 

She bent down, looking through the lily leaves, pushing them aside with the rake first, but the leaves were stuck in the rake, she couldn’t tell what wanted to release and what leaves didn’t. Some were clearly dead, packed in around others with green at the edges, maybe attached to something, to another part of this thing, a lily, a clump of lilies still hidden in shawls of protective dead growth. This thing winter did. Freezing the juice from living leaves, so they would blanket what was to be saved beneath the frozen mud. Some came away. She put down the rake, bent, began using her hands. Could feel between her fingers what was coming apart easily, and what was still attached, still delicately bonded to the real life below but for what purpose? She didn’t care. Every day it had been first snowing then hailing then raining, every day bone chilling and too soon, but right now, there was a break. Expose the bulbs, for the sun was coming. Too soon, maybe. Something down there, not a bulb. She reached in, yanked. A bone. A big dog bone, gnawed at either end, The dog, in the winter, had come here with this bone in his mouth and carefully put it end first down among the leaves. It was yellow, brown with mud, no longer bone white, hidden away for a particular passage of time. 

The dog came down the steps. It was a large white dog with a big head and a brown spot behind each ear. It sat behind her, nuzzled her neck and gently lifted from her grasp its bone. My bone, his eyes said in that animal language of looks, grunts, and tails, but did not thank her. Instead lay down beside her with the bone in its mouth, folding his long white legs. The paws then held the bone for licking.  Hello, the dog said, now turning its muzzle to show his tongue. He rose again and laid the bone in her lap. This bone is mine, but I’m putting it here. And then he got up and went off to the pond where two geese were patrolling along the edge, the one goose pecking up and down the shoreline, the second goose standing still facing away from the pond, as if on patrol. Watchful. The dog watched the goose, the goose watched the dog and the woman looked at the bone. It was filthy, in her mind, but not so to the dog, for the dog was beholden to it, and the bone to him.

Pain down her leg, a stiffness in her back. It was not the best idea squatting here under heavy skys in a too thin jacket, torn pants, wet sneakers. Pain reminding her, to breathe, stretch, stand, to look out at the pond where now the heron had arrived. Having seen the dog, the bird changed its mind, flew past, its wings stiff and legs drawn back to its gray body, and landed now on the last bit of ice floating at the far shore. Three blackbirds backed away. They were ravens or crows (the difference has to do with their tail feathers. You had to wait until they were airborne to tell which was a crow and which a raven, for when they spread out, one perfectly straight, the other pointed in the middle, but which was a raven and which a crow, she could not remember.) She stood watching he heron find its footing on the slippery ground, its claws like fingers tapping out words. The patrolling goose moved away, followed by his spouse, the female she presumed. The protective male watching over the female eating. They looked alike, it was hard to tell if the female was doing the eating because maybe it was her mate, and she was doing the protecting. They could be doing both, or else the male never ate, or else they changed places. Last year at some point there was only one of them. The standing male who never seemed to eat, just patrolling the edge of the pond by himself. She presumed it was the female then deep somewhere in the bushes sitting on an egg, on two eggs, and sure enough, one day there appeared the other goose and with her two tiny geese and the next day they were all gone.

Now the dog too was watching, and she wondered what were his thoughts? Were they anything like hers? No, he was walking back towards her now. She watched him coming, his focused eyes, ears hanging like what, like….mushrooms, she thought, like big…oh, she couldn’t think of their names, soft things with fuzzy skins that would fold if you picked it up by one edge, fold like these ears no, this was silly. Big as donkey ears, was what. Only hanging down like soft flayed mice. Moving closer, steadily, focused on his intention and thoughtless, without contradictions or reprehensions or ulterior motivations or hidden agendas or any other metaphor or rhetorical ideations, just a dog coming back for his bone. Dog. Bone. No understanding of how it had arrived in her lap. No clue, no memory of the moments before when he had left it there, or when he had first discovered it, and certain nothing so far back as deep in the winter when he’d carried it out of the house, sat in the snow for a few moments under a weak sun, then lying under that sun, spread out on his back, feet in the air and the bone underneath. Perhaps the dog remembered the feel of the bone against its spine, My bone. Mine.

And how had it gotten into the lily bed? The dog was bad at this. He would bring those objects that meant most to him at this one instant, a moment he would never remember, which was neither too soon or not soon enough, carrying it carefully in his mouth because it was a long bone and would fall out if he didn’t manage the exact center, the point of gravity (she was trying to remember what that was called but instead remembered the name of the mushrooms. Portabellos. And that they were round, nothing at all like the ear of a dog, except maybe in the way it felt, soft and plush when held). In the winter, the dog had stopped in front of the lily bed, dropped the bone on the ground and began digging with its front paws. Very intently, it had dug, flinging the hard soil to one side. Then it deposited the bone in the lily bed behind the hole. It pushed some of the dirt back over the empty hole and gone away.  She remembered laughing. How she and her husband had stood watching at the window, laughing. Not at the dog, but in concert at what the dog had in its mind about burying a bone.

Then the clouds overran the sky and the rain began, and she and the dog went inside. Her husband sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee. It’s the end of everything, he said, showing her his laptop screen where Notre Dame was in flames.

There but for a pebble…a big one

There but for a pebble…a big one

“If, on a certain evening about sixty-­six million years ago, you had stood somewhere in North America and looked up at the sky, you would have soon made out what appeared to be a star. If you watched for an hour or two, the star would have seemed to grow in brightness, although it barely moved. That’s because it was not a star but an asteroid, and it was headed directly for Earth at about forty-five thousand miles an hour. Sixty hours later, the asteroid hit. The air in front was compressed and violently heated, and it blasted a hole through the atmosphere, generating a supersonic shock wave. The asteroid struck a shallow sea where the Yucatán peninsula is today. In that moment, the Cretaceous period ended and the Paleogene period began.”

This from the New Yorker:  https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/04/08/the-day-the-dinosaurs-died

The image of us mammals scurrying around the feet of towering, pecking dinosaurs, borrowing for safety for thousands of years, ending with one random hour-long event, is chasing me this morning as I walk around my field, feeling the emergence of what we here in Vermont call spring, which is really mud, watching the water birds staring over the melting ice at the edge of the pond, sidestepping emerging dog turds and shredded toys, my goodness, life is returning. But for an asteroid we might not be here. “We” might be unrecognizable, maybe something with feathers. Remember this, writers, even as we cover the globe with our ridiculous opinions.

We are all Bozos on the Bus

We are all Bozos on the Bus

Wavy Gravy said that, but someone else probably said it first. I’ll go for Wavy, though, because his embodiment of the state of our humanity is precious. He is (still, at 80) the man for whom compassion is a drug. The love child, someone said, of Groucho and Mother Theresa. He had his own bus named Further, which was, back in the day, the Merry Pranksters’ vehicle of choice transporting around all dimensions a cadre of real bozos who wished us all well. But that was then and this is now. Instead of the magic carpet throbbing with good cheer, there waits at the corner, motor humming and windows blackened, a driverless Escalade.

My friend had a belly ache, the cause unclear, so his doctor ordered two Cat scans, one abdomenal, the other pelvic to be done together for a full picture. Because, as the docter knew, we are not divided by the belly button into scanable parts. The insurance company approved the top half but not the bottom and the hospital scheduled one scan, the one at the top, for a month away. The doctor then went to bat for my friend. He nudged the agency until the pelvic scan was approved to be done at the same time as the abdominal. But then the hospital refused to do the scans together and wouldn’t schedule them separately until a whole new set of requests were received. Which would delay the tests even further. Meanwhile, my friend, urged by his doctor to go to the emergency room to get the tests he needs, refused to do so. Instead, he yells at the hospital scheduler, the clinic’s receptionist, the insurance representative, drinks bone broth, swallows Tylendol and Ambian, and finally, like any good American patient, gives in because we are all bozos on the bus and noone has any idea what to do about anything.

Another friend went up on her dentist’s website where, to her horror, she saw a positive review written by me, with my picture, and a statement that I had five children, three of whom she took to this dentist. Now, I do go to this family dentist, but I never have written a review, nor do I have five children, nor would I ever give my dentist permission to post my toothy image on their website. My friend suggested that I call a lawyer and at least get free dental care for the rest of my life. My lawyer, however, never called back. So I went over to the practice and said hey, you have no right to steal my identity to boost your revenue, to grab my photo and by the way I don’t have five children. Oh, said the dentist, the web people get all that stuff from Google.

I suppose, although it’s hard to face, that maybe it’s true that we get what we deserve. We get Google and Google gets us, and this brings me to Donald Trump. The world is running on some kind of algorithm that fakes humanity the way it fakes the news and it’s out of control. Wavey and his pals were then and Donald Trump is now, two bozos on opposite poles. Yesterday I was cheering AEO and, yes, Omar, weighing my love of Bernie with my lust for Beto, but today I think the reality show guy could win the 2020 election because the bus keeps breaking down.

Tina Escala at Burlington City Arts

Tina Escala at Burlington City Arts

This from the BCA Website: Robopoems is an interdisciplinary project created by Alm@ Pérez (Tina Escaja) that combines poetry, photography, sound, and technology that explores the intersection of robotics and humanity. Escaja creates interactive sculptures in the form of insect-like robots whose legs and bodies are engraved with bilingual poetry written from the robot’s point of view (using the artist’s original Spanish with English translation). Her creations resemble insects or spiders embodying the underlying anxiety and problematic relationship many of us have with technology. Through robotic sculptures and large-scale photographs, the artist emphasizes the existential exchange between robots and humans, correlating technology with art and poetics.

The exhibition is in the BCA Basement and that’s how Tina, AKA ALM@ PÉREZ  likes it, her clumsy, poetic robots lurching underneath the pipes and cables that enable the polished art space above, just as the exposed electronics are the inner workings of the spidery bots.

They move, they speak, they’re scared of us.

I haven’t seen the exhibition yet but I will: Tina is brilliant, innovative, always questioning. There’s a public talk Wednesday, April 17, 2019 6-7 p.m. at the BCA Center on Church Street.

NOLA zoetrope

NOLA zoetrope

The last time I was in NOLA – way before Katrina – I dismissed the city as a theme park. This time, I’m not here as a tourist. I’m in a real neighborhood at a residency established by the people responsible for the first Free Tibet concerts back in 1995, in a little house behind their own.

This is the Bywater, formerly the Upper Ninth Ward. It runs along the river bordered by the French Quarter and Treme. I stand in front of the levee looking up – I am beneath the river! Enormous freighters with names written in foreign alphabets crawl back and forth along the Mississippi. I climb the the steep rusty bridge over the freight train tracks and the levee and come back down to a pretty green walking trail called Crescent Park. The day is gowing hot. People wearing spandex ride fast bikes toward the French Quarter while others, heads down texting, are walking their dogs. Dogs are everywhere and they are lucky dogs because New Orleans has hundreds of dog parks made out of empty lots when the river broke the levees, buildings collapsed and eventually the rubble was taken away.

I ran into one dog today, in a voodoo supply store, a fat hairy dog riveted by something on a top shelf.

NOLA is a bowl in a swamp, where it seems the apocalypse has already happened. The survivors are in various stages of getting over it, standing up and falling down, like a Laurie Anderson song. It is a port – freight trains run along the commuter lines. it is commerce and joy, voodoo and nunneries, community and desolation. People on the street smile, they nod, they say,”how’s your day goin'” and sometimes they stop to tell you how their day is going. The clothes! Prints on stripes, dresses over shorts – this is a city that loves its skin. Po-boys are delicious, gumbo not so much, hipster cafes painted shades of orange behind shutters next to drink dives and one-stops, BMW’s with Jersey plates drive behind construction trucks and Havana Chevys and then there’s the Bark Market that sells pet supplies on one side and art supplies on the other. And the Death, Pharmacy and Chicken museums. An Improv theater in the Healing Center along with the food co-op and trance making supplies.

On my (white) side of St. Claude, soft bellied bearded men sit in cafes eating cake and reading novels, while on the other side an emaciated Haitian rides a stolen bike around in circles. The Quarter is a 20 minute walk away, as is Treme, as is downtown. It is a city of writers. Walter Percy lives on, his old writer’s group still meeting every Friday at a certain bar.

One wonders, where do the people who get pushed out go?  Houston?  Katrina didn’t do them in, they say, it was the government building substandard  levees and infrastructure, the broken pumps; it was America that almost killed them. NOLA, they explain, nodding wisely, is a blue dot in a red state.   

The cats, however stayed and multiplied.  You see them everywhere, in the stores, on stages, grooming their tails in art galleries, hunkered down on stoops, sneaking out of alleys. Always single, They patrol grocery stores, pose on cafe counters and have serious expressions. On every other porch there is a plate of half eaten food. They don’t need water because, as I said, NOLA is a bowl in a swamp.

My computer pings. It’s a weather alert but not for me: a blizzard is sweeping West to East across Northern Vermont.

Fiction wins

Fiction wins

I’m deeply involved in a writers community in my city. It’s a Meetup group that has maybe 200 active members. When the founder disappeared (who knows the real story behind this), they (who are they?) formed a 501C3 that required a Board, so that was formed, and after their terms ran out, a second Board came forth but a year later almost all of them quit in a huff without telling anyone why, without a transition plan. Then a transitional team tried to form, but they too quit (what is it with quitting boards?) and now there is an emergency community meeting because we have to pay the rent.

This has been going on for months, and now half of us who used to be copasetic in community don’t speak to the other half: being writers, we started sending each other overly long, acrimonious, analytical and philosophical emails and neglected our own novels.

I unapologetically fled. I was able to get out of town to a residency where I determined to convince my novel to forgive me.

I’m thinking of something that happened to a famous writer whose name I’ve forgotten. She tells the story of having thought of writing a novel about – I’m quoting from Amazon here – “a researcher (female) who sets off into the Amazon jungle to find the remains and effects of a colleague who recently died under mysterious circumstances.” But she never wrote it, and in due time her idea went away and settled in the brain of another writer, Anne Patchett, who actually wrote that story, which she titled “State of Wonder”. These writers met and kissed.or

This story of course sounds too good to be true, but even if it isn’t, there’s a lesson behind it, which is more or less that there are only so many ideas floating around the universe and if you don’t write your novel, someone else will.