Les Semaines


what I'm thinking and doing § what I'm listening to § what I'm reading
what I'm writing § retrospective: The Phonosnout


Black Black Heart

Oh, what a week. There's not much more that can be said--I'm sure everyone has read and talked all they can bear to about the events of September 11 and then some. We've heard so many stories, both heartbreaking and heartwarming. We're all talked out. Like everyone, we're glutted with news and profoundly sad.

I wasn't going to write about this. I wish we could just stop talking about it, but it's almost impossible not to talk about it. And in many ways I think we simply shouldn't stop talking, stop communicating.

The ways in which people have communicated their sadness has been touching and wonderful. People sharing pain, outrage, sharing stories and photographs of terror, bravery, mourning. People sharing.

I was asleep when it all started. I had been up writing late and arranged my schedule so I could sleep in until nearly 8:00 and I was really looking forward to it. But shortly after Jim left for work, I woke up enough to realize I had to go to the bathroom, and by the time I lay back down to sleep again, I was awake enough to hear the NPR Morning Edition announcer describing what was happening. A strong moment of disbelief--that he had to be describing a new Tom Clancy novel and not the news, but the tone of his voice made me race upstairs to turn on the TV to see the towers just after the second one had been hit, and watch first the one fall, and turn off the TV before I could watch the other.

Went to work with the radio on, worked with the radio on, hitting the internet and email as much as I could until I finally had to turn it all off. Everyone stunned, numb with shock and sadness, which hasn't changed in the days that have followed, amidst the overwhelming information and photographs and email arguments. We don't want to live through history. We don't want to see the world change like this. Don't want to think of the people who caused the events, who experienced the events, who witnessed the events, but like everyone we feel called to witness for the lost and for the people who mourn them. We ourselves haven't lost anyone we know, but friends and acquaintances of ours have, and Jim's brother lives across the street from a stewardess who was on the plane that went down in Pennsylvania. No matter where you live, even here on the west coast, the events hit close to home. Christina phones from Turkey. The photographs of mourners from around the globe....

Jim and I were scheduled to participate in a large poetry reading as part of the It's About Time series on Thursday. I was dreading it--I didn't want to hear poems about the event--I had already been subjected to that on email lists. I didn't know what to read: so many of my own poems are angry and I did want to stir any more anger and others are sad and I couldn't bear anymore sadness and I didn't even want to read anything upbeat because events make such things so small and saccharine. I wanted to cancel out, but didn't know how, so we showed up. It was a small group that came for the reading, and so we put our chairs in a circle, and just talked about the events as we couldn't help but do. Then we took our turns reading. A couple of people did an open mike, then I read the cycle of Mairie poems in Blood Memory, not reading so well as I was still so tense and the poems are meant to be breathless but tracing her whole life from age 5 to the end. Then Jill McGrath read about travelling in India, and Jim read about the jazz shapes of music and lives, and Susan Landgraff read on a variety of topics, then another brief open mike session. It was a surprisingly strengthening event.

Up until the greyness today, the weather has been so beautiful it makes the heart break. Yesterday there was a sunset that almost made me cry. During the days when air traffic was suspended the skies were so blue and empty and quiet. I never noticed how much airplane noise we never really noticed until it was gone. A friend of mine in Manhattan wrote about the weather there before the rains: "the weather so perfect it isn't really weather." How incongruous.

Those willing to bear more might like to read W.H. Auden's "September 1, 1939", which seems terrifying apt.

As we says there: "We must love one another or die."

last week's thinking and doing § next week's thinking and doing


Finally got our replacement copy of Björk's Vespertine as we'd received one of the defective copies that had a skip in the 12th track. It's a wonderful, rich album that is growing on me by leaps and bounds.

I also finally started listening to the new David Usher album, morning orbit. His first solo album knocked me out--the emotional setting of that album is so powerful. I'm not as taken with this new album--how could I be--but there's one song, "Black Black Heart" that is very strange and powerful. It uses a sample from The Flower Duet in Delibes Lakmé opera (you'd recognize it if you heard it--in the last few years it has been used in a lot of movies) and the musical beat doesn't quite match up with it and at first it bothered me but now I see how it works for the song. Anyway, "Black Black Heart" seems particularly appropriate this week. Hearts black with sadness and the black hearts of the perpetrators. I know it's a little inane for such a thing to be of comfort to me, but it has been.

And after ten years of talking about it, yesterday Jim and I finally went and bought a new receiver and a new disc player. Our receiver dated from before Jim and I met, and had a nasty habit of going fuzzy, something you could fix by pushing the tape monitor button but that didn't stop it from happening again. And our cd player was a hand-me-down from friends to replace our original model that could only play about half of our discs. The hand-me-down had a cartridge to hold the discs with originally 6 slots but it were down to 5 when we got custody of it, and was down to 2 when we replaced it.

The improved sound is a wonder, and we're discovering nuances to the sounds of our discs that we hadn't imagined. The improvement in the overall sound, even with our ancient speakers, is astonishing. And it's amazing how music can give you small revelations about the things you need to think about. Small comforts: spurs to sorrow, balm for sorrow, spurs to anger, balm for anger.

last week's listening § next week's listening


Connie Willis's Lincoln's Dreams is an odd and absorbing book that in many ways reminds me of her most recent novel, Passage (commented on in my August 5th entry). It's the story of a man who works as a researcher for a famous novelist who writes novels based on Civil War history. The novelist has just finished a new novel but is still--at a very late date when the book is already going into galleys--adding scenes to his tale and sending his assistant out to find out various historical details. One evening a friend of the assistant's, a sleep researcher, brings his most current subject to a party to celebrate the new book, and the assistant is immediately attracted to her. She starts telling him about some very odd dreams she has been having, and he finds out that her dreams match with historic facts from the Civil War--she is dreaming about the battles from Robert E. Lee's point of view. She is having Robert E. Lee's dreams. I found this novel very hard to put down and the depictions of the details of the Civil War understated and affecting. I'm glad I finished it on Monday.

Lois McMaster Bujold's Borders of Infinity and Brothers in Arms were great escapist novels. They are the further adventures of Miles Vorkosigan (earlier ones in the series are mentioned in my July 15, August 19, and August 26th entries). Not much point in describing the plots, just trust me that they were distracting. Nothing could have been distracting enough, but they helped. I don't think I really realized the value of an entertaining space opera until now.

last week's reading § next week's reading


Still writing at least a little bit, every night (except Friday and Saturday when the exhaustion caught up to me). I still write too late at night to be good for me, and I live my life in perpetual need of sleep but it doesn't matter that much. I even wrote a little Tuesday night, because I was terrified of letting myself have a night when I didn't write, and letting it be an excuse felt stupidly and inappropriately self-pitying. And even though I know words cannot help but be inadequate in this new world we live in, I keep telling myself that I would feel even more inadequate if I didn't at least try. Try to describe my view of this week, try to finish a novel about dealing with harm, try to write a poem about this changing world. I don't know if I'll work tonight, but I've been working on a couple of poems today, one of which is the ubiquitous Auchindrain poem that I've been working on for a year now and another that I don't want to write but find myself writing anyway sideways about events this week. Whoever said that inadequacy was any excuse anyway?

last week's writing § next week's writing

Retrospective: The Phonosnout

About the Phonosnout

March - April 1980

1145. Living Here                                         March 21, 1980

Outside it is trying very hard to be spring. I am getting very near to the core of myself, to understanding my self-destruction. I opened my bedroom window to le the spring air in, but it was too soon, and my room grew too cold. I had to shut it again, but my room still carries its scent; it smells of the wild currants' bright buds, of the leaves just beginning to grow on the dogwoods.
     The impetus, does it carry me on or does it fade here? I'm afraid I found the script illegible. (Unintelligible.)
     It makes me want to question the very foundation of it all, of me, and the spring because you don't understand the connection (it's beyond you--for you don't even know the script exists). I am trying to read it again.
     I have the mark of a burn on my arm. A burn, a stream. It is all that water in the fire.
     Running blind--finding the darkness between these white pages without light--if I could, if I could. There are so many other things that I need to learn, and I wonder if I will always live here.
     The pleasure of sleeping, of breathing. (The doors creaking to be spring-open.)
     ...a voice speaking in descending tones. It said peace, it said cold, it said sleep.

1146. I'll run out of pages

If I keep writing in this book, so should I stop? If I only finish the page, this book of my life will be over. I am trying to end this wasted day usefully. I am trying to have done something. I would rather sit and write poems.
     Malcolm Mooney moves slowly over the white language [1]. That's what this page is, Mooney is my slightly untrustworthy pen. Skipping and scratching over the page, making his glyphs. This pen and I irritate each other, neither of us move in quite the right way for the other.
     There is a rush of air from under my door; too bad it isn't the door to the spring. Rather it is the door to the hall, the labyrinth. If I am careful I will twist my way into sleep before it is too late. These are my consolations: sleeping and breathing and scratching over the white language. Everything else I hate. Except water. So I love language and water and air, and dreams. A dream could carry it all for me in my sleep, all my excess baggage. Here I am scratching but not making a poem. Merely scratching. But it's taken me all the way to the end of the page (and of this book).

1147. To Begin Anew                                         March 25, 1980

With a fresh book, made of snow (pages and cover). This day is Trina's birthday, but Jocelyn's sick, and so we have her. She is sleeping now. This has been a day, but last night was more of a night. Workshop at Ann's, quite good, then John and I went for a long drive, then walk at Dallas Road, then late visit with Randy that turned into a spiritual discussion with his friend, Jim. I attempted to articulate my present stand, and neither succeeded nor failed...one of those matters not easily articulated. John told me he is secretive. This is true, and later, driving home, we decided that talking about spiritual experiences cheapens them, they are best kept secretly, though may crop up on poems. Or can't help but ease their way into the poem. The drive was magical, stealing through the forest over the hills, through the guard of trees, every corner a cliff we fall through, each bend taking us farther from ourselves. It was a night, and today I need to sleep, to let it all slip back into me. The sun today gave me energy, but it has clouded over, and I do too. Clouds falling over my eyes, the sky. I want to dream that rising, falling, bending, pouring of myself over the road through the forest [2].

1148. I haven't a poem in me                                         April 1, 1980

I haven't a poem in me, I can't write. I am poemless, and poemless I am nothing. I need to write myself back into existence, but I fear it is too late and I am already gone beyond recovery.

1149. So much of April gone                                         April 18, 1980

I've spent over half of it in a sewing and studying fog. Poemless, nothing, nonexistent. How can I bear this waste of this windy, rainy, sunny, growing month? I saw my first hummingbird of the spring today at the wild currant bush outside my window. The cat still sleeps as if it were winter. Some of the dogwoods are in full bloom. Those sheltered by the house are slower. The last of fall's apples were made into sauce this morning. I am scattered, unfocused, with the shadow of a poem in the back of my mind, haunting me. This haunting makes me realize I am who I am, and I cannot pretend to be only half a person, half of me. I mut concentrate myself. My mind wanders hazily over April, nothing comes sharply into its focus. My mind is a cloud; thick and unable to land, it moves slowly, pushed by the movement of air and days, not by any energy of its own. I am lost again in this condition, but am slowly coming into focus again, drawing myself up in a way I can remember.


1. Malcolm Mooney is a character in W.S. Graham's poems, who does just this in them.

2. Bits of this became a section of a longer poem in Seven Robins:


IV    The Road At Midnight

I must be dreaming this
bending rising pouring
of myself over the road
through the forest.
Each corner is a cliff
I fall through.

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