ToC

 

FROM THE CATSKILL EAGLE

Diana Arterian

My mom and I have an exchange over a piece of news—a woman philanthropist donated $7.6 million to UC-Davis' veterinary school. The article about the donation focuses a good amount on the donor's character—her spunk, her generosity.
     She died while crossing the street in Florida. A hit and run. She was 70.
     "How sad she was hit and the driver kept going", I say.
     "Isn't that horrible, for a person who is trying to help to die like that?" she responds.
     I say it is horrible no matter what. My mother agrees, but says it is especially tragic for a good person's life to be cut short in such a way.
     I demur—isn't it more tragic for a person to die before potentially changing for the better than someone who is already leading a good, happy life?
     "Not at all. Not in the slightest. A 70-year-old who is horrible and a 70-year-old who makes the world better—not even close."
     I say we simply disagree, then.
     "This is why you should be a lawyer," my mother says.

I avoid hypotheticals, feeling relief when I realized I could simply say there is no use in engaging in the question of a terrorist being in our possession and a bomb of his/her planting about to go off, only s/he knows where it is—do you torture?

A week or so later we are talking about Dick Cheney's new autobiography, how it seems he will never have a moment of reckoning.
     She says, "Well you'd prefer to have the cat philanthropist be hit by a car, remember?"
     "There is always hope," I say.

"It is easier to tell a story of how people wound one another than of what binds them together," writes Anne Carson.

I read an article that states, "[Birds] often flourish in geopolitical conflict zones. The demilitarized zone between North and South Korea is home to two of the world's rarest cranes."

In Mexico my friend tells me about an abandoned house. I ask her to show me—I want to take photos.
     She moves the wooden plank for me, "Oh, I really don't like this place," she says. "I can just feel something awful when I'm close." So she leaves.
     The doors are all open and I'm taking pictures of light coming through drapes until I turn and gasp at a form on a chair.
     I realize it is a corpse of a small black dog. It must have been a stray that got locked in.
Who knew fear could become pity so fast.

This friend's husband died a several years ago. She doesn't talk of him too much.
     Then she is in a video addressing her husband's death, saying she couldn't move for weeks after—the trauma of losing someone who she had tried so hard to nurse back to health had left her paralyzed.
     As soon as she begins to say all this I draw in a sharp breath.

"It's like a knife went into your heart," my boyfriend Ali says.
     Vallejo writes, "Listening to Beethoven, a woman and a man weep at the greatness of the music. I say to them: but you are the ones who have this greatness in your heart."

A New York Times article states, "Seeing a loved one endure a slight electrical shock, researchers have found, activates a brain region that processes pain, pointing to a possible neurological basis for empathy."

Did my friend feel the knife first?
     Did Ali feel it too?
     How many will feel this knife's pierce, then?

The reason that drugs "work" is because we contain the dopamine, etc. within our brains already.
     It is when we overwhelm the brain with these chemicals that we get high.

So what do we not contain?

I go to a talk and someone mentions the 2002 Olympics and like a thunderclap I remember—the night Sarah Hughes came out onto the ice and skated the best in her life. This teenager, born just a month before me. I watched her spin and spin and her coach thrashes in the background screaming "YES! YES!" while Hughes holds that final pose with a look like something took over.
     Hughes proved to me that even a sixteen-year-old could have a moment of profound and unquestionable glory, in an instant when everyone is looking.

I read about bones found in the Mojave Desert. The bones were those of a woman who was murdered in 1946. The remains found in 1971. Identified in 2011.           
    Did the person who came upon those bones gather them up?

Georgia O'Keeffe said about her first year in the desert: "[T]here were no flowers, so I began picking up bones."

It is a week of long-lost bodies, the second found in water. A scuba diver in Lake Tahoe who never came up almost twenty years ago. Mixed-gas divers safely descended to where the man's remains lay. The divers were exploring cliffs, startled by the sight of a motionless body.
     But this body is the opposite of just bones. "His remains are in amazing physical condition. We'll be able to do a thorough autopsy."

Just before falling asleep I think about how many small acts in my life if, done differently, would have me lying at the bottom of a river.
     I write the word "river" on my hand to remember to think about it in the morning.
     Why hover over this idea?
     Perhaps I like the image of my lying in a river. For when I envision it I look as if I am resting.

"[I]n psychoanalysis there are no unimportant thoughts; there are only thoughts that pretend to be unimportant in order not to be told" says Theodor Reik.

Someone tells me about black market videotapes that existed before the easy access to videos of death and dying we have now.
     These were death films—people hit by trains, falling from cliffs.
     The quick unexpected death caught on tape and circulated.
     We discuss the reason for popularity of such videos.
I suggest it's because the viewer (perhaps subconsciously) hoped to access something. To see the terrifying thing that defines every existence, make it less terrifying.
     The group doesn't really pay much attention to this idea.

One Christmas my aunt and her family visit and she wants to have an evening where we talk about our grandparents. They never had memorial services. She wants to show us old photos and go through letters together.
     We have to strong-arm my older brother and younger boy cousin to sit with us. My aunt begins passing things around, reading letters out loud, crying a little.
     After about twenty minutes her husband gets up and starts making food.

My mother and I go feed the animals at a neighbor's after. We crunch through the snow, and I stand outside while she tends to them and I try to think of something to say.
     She comes back out and I say, "Mom?" and she says "What." I try to speak but cannot.
     She grabs me and pulls me close to her, clutching. "I know baby, I know."

My friend's grandfather died some years ago at her grandparents' house. She was in the room when it happened. She, her mother, and grandmother sat with him. "We were like steel," she said.
     None of the men could stand it, being there. Like I can blame them.

Years later my aunt tells me that my uncle, a Chinese man who moved to New York at the age of fourteen with his older sister, cried harder than my aunt had ever seen when my grandmother died.
     He told my aunt, "No one understood me like she did. No one."

Hannah Arendt writes, "[L]oneliness is at the same time contrary to the basic requirements of the human condition and one of the fundamental experiences of every human life."

Ali is in New York again for work. My sister comes over one night for dinner to keep me company. We're talking and she says, "Wow—you have bad breath."
     I think, "Maybe I have an ulcer."
     More likely, though, it's a signifier of loneliness. I sit with my mouth clapped shut all day, no one to talk to.

"When sadness or restlessness arises, I can sit still or lie down and remain still in order to be present for it. I recognize the old tendency to grab a book or to look for someone to talk to, in order to fill up that void or to distract the buzzing of my mind. But I practice to be still because I no longer wish to run away from myself" writes Sister Dang Nghiem.

Sitting by a waterfall in Descanso Gardens I realize that light reflecting off of moving water onto a surface contains my entire childhood.
     A grandma sits next to me while her grandchildren run around on a nearby bridge.
     We sit next to each other in complete silence for over half an hour, looking at the water.

I think about how the woman in Adaptation says "I want my life back. I want it back before everything got fucked up. I want to be a baby again. I want to be new. I want to be new." and how I have felt that way at least a handful of times for too long and I cry a little at that point in the movie because I know.
     This sitting by the moving water next to the grandma makes me feel a little new.

I think about talking to the grandma.
     Wittgenstein: "What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence."

I think about when, walking through a museum, I came upon Zhou Dongqing's scroll painting "The Pleasures of Fishes", from 1291. It said, "Chuangtse and Hueitse had strolled on to the bridge over the Hao, when the former observed, 'See how the small fish are darting about! That is the happiness of the fish.'
     'You not being a fish yourself,' said Hueitse, 'how can you know the happiness of the fish?'
     'And you not being I,' retorted Chuangtse, 'how can you know that I do not know?'"
     Donqing writes on his scroll, next to his dancing fish:

Not being fish, how do we know their happiness?
But we may express our feelings in our painting.
In order to probe the subtleties of the ordinary,
We must describe the indescribable.

 

*

{Notes}

  • My mom and I have an exchange over a piece of news...
    "Owner bequeaths $7.6 million to UC Davis vet school in cat's name" by Cynthia Hubert, The Sacramento Bee, August 23, 2011.
    http://www.sacbee.com/2011/08/23/3854696/owner-bequeaths-76-million-to.html#ixzz1VwrBRL4T
  • "It is easier to tell a story... 
    Anne Carson, Plainwater, "The Anthropology of Water," 234.
  • "[Birds] often flourish...
    Elif Batuman's "Natural Histories: A journey in the shadow of Ararat," New Yorker, October 24, 2011.
  • ...Then she is in a video addressing her husband's death...
    This friend was interviewed for a piece entitled "Get Your Groove Back" on Oprah's website http://oprah.com. The piece went live in July, 2010.
  • A New York Times article states...
    "Brain Senses The Pain Of Someone Else's 'Ouch!'" by Anahad O'Connor, New York Times, February 24, 2004.
  • Vallejo writes...
    César Vallejo Contra el Secreto Profesional, 90. The original Spanish is "Oyendo a Beethoven, una mujer y un hombre lloran ante la grandeza de esa música. Y yo les digo: si son ustedes los que tienen en su corazón esta grandeza." I have had no luck locating the translation, but I believe it must be Robert Bly, James Wright, and/or John Knoepfle.
  • The reason that drugs "work...
    From WNYC's Radiolab episode "Blue Brain."
  • I go to a talk and someone mentions the 2002 Olympics...
    Sarah Hughes was in fourth place after her short program, jumping to first after slip ups by Irina Slutskaya, Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen in their long programs. In her long program routine Hughes successfully landed seven triple jumps and two triple-triple combinations. Because of the quality of her long program performance, Hughes subsequently won the 2002 Olympic gold medal in ladies' singles figure skating. Her choreographer Robin Wagner had worked with Hughes since 1998. A video of Hughes' long program can be watched here: http://youtu.be/-2KYnyBI3JU.
  • I read about bones found in the Mojave Desert...
    "Remains Of Woman Murdered, Dumped In Desert Identified 65 Years Later," unattributed, CBS News, August 5, 2011.
    http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2011/08/05/remains-of-woman-murdered-dumped-in-desert-identified-65-years-later
  • Georgia O'Keeffe said about her first year in the desert...
    From video "Georgia O'Keeffe in New Mexico,"
    http://youtu.be/BYwKRVJaNEA.
    Full quotation: "The first year I was up here there were no flowers, so I began picking up bones...Well, if I wanted to take something home [laughs] I wanted to take something home to work on."
  • ...A scuba diver in Lake Tahoe who never came up almost twenty years ago...
    "Body of diver missing for 17 years found in Lake Tahoe," by Bob Pool, L.A. Now (Los Angeles Times), August 8, 2011.
  • "[I]n psychoanalysis there are no unimportant thoughts...
    As quoted from Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex, 127.
  • Hannah Arendt writes...
    Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 475.
  • "When sadness or restlessness arises...
    Sister Dang Nghiem, Healing: A Woman's Journey from Doctor to Nun, 95.
  • Wittgenstein: "What we cannot speak about...
    Ludwig Wittgenstien, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. D.F. Pears and B.F. McGuinness, 62.
  • I think about how the woman in Adaptation says...
    Adaptation (2002) is a film by Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman. These lines are spoken by Meryl Streep's character Susan Orlean.
  • ...Zhou Dongqing's scroll painting "The Pleasures of Fishes," from 1291...
    "The Pleasures of Fishes" is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Quotation verified in Reasoning About Knowledge by Ronald Fagin, 15.

 

 

 

 

__

I started this manuscript a few years ago as a response to a relatively simple prompt: be like James Schuyler and do a The Morning of the Poem of your own. Return to a document every day and add to it, almost like a diary. I thought I was writing a book-length poem. I still kind of feel like it's a book-length poem, but many say it's a very long lyric essay. Mostly I was being hit upside the head with a lot of mind-blowing (often in a bad way) facts, thoughts and occurrences, and this crazy thing I started had a shape amorphous enough to could contain nearly all of it. Plus it involved research, and reading, and experiences. I got to make an extensive notes section. Both my poet-side and my scholar-side where subsequently appeased and happy. 

This is still homeless, under construction, will have a different title that will hopefully reveal itself to me soon.

If you like poetic prose/lyric essays, a few that have blown my mind (I'm sure there are far more worth noting that I am ignorant of):

Julie Carr, 100 Notes on Violence
Maggie Nelson, Bluets
Claudia Rankine, Don't Let Me Be Lonely
Catherine Taylor, APART
Sarah Vap, End of the Sentimental Journey
Simone White, Unrest