Okay, so Madam’s death squeezed out all motivation to post for the longest time. A pet’s death, however, doesn’t dry creative juices completely. Just as Billy Joel says in his song, “there would still be music left to write” if only because life goes on despite what one is feeling.
So. Going through my emails today, I was so excited to learn that yesterday’s Daily Prompt was “Anticipation.” I haven’t participating in The Daily Prompt for some time. But. Anticipation is the only the word that describes my state of mind right now. The church which we have hosted for the longest time (nearly ten years to be exact) is due to move out in a month or so. And all I can now do is imagine our house having more space. And what not.
It’s so hard to put everything into words right now because interior decorating is a part-time hobby of mine due to the fact that it is a very expensive one at that. Plus. It takes me ages and ages to conceptualize and think about where to place furniture and what furniture to use/buy for a particular need.
For example, the hubby right now is using the top of a shoe rack in our kitchen as a countertop for his coffeemaker. That is going to change, of course, not least because he’s been making noises about it, ha, ha.
One thing’s for sure: we need more shelves for our growing library.
Anyway, I’ve been looking at the current and present IKEA catalogs and my cache of color-coordinated bric-a-bracs, wall decor, table covers, sofa covers, cushion covers, curtains, etc … The last time I changed our color scheme was 17 months ago in June 2015 when I adopted the color purple.
Ugh. Now I realize I didn’t take pics of our house with the purple curtains, carpets, etc … except for the one below.
Anyway, the photos here do not show our current living situation which right now is very messy since I’ve been “springcleaning” soon after the end of our homeschooling year. They’re how our house looked like two Christmases ago. Meanwhile, anticipation beats steadily through my days …
Farewell, furried friend
Though I cannot comprehend.
Tears may fall
At your sudden call
This I know
I cannot show
Life’s bitter clause
Rent by your claws
For all we fear
Grab things held dear
A tearing of the heart
When the heavens part.
Keeper of my dreams At your altar do I bring All my person’s pride and pain And a sinner’s dross and shame.
Keeper of my dreams Gladly do I give you everything: The fears and tears of yesteryears – Free them, please, on an angel’s wings.
Keeper of my dreams To you I surrender all heartaches Carry me so my soul won’t break Strengthen me for thy Spirit’s sake.
Keeper of my dreams Gently sew these tattered seams Of long dormant desires and whims Into a garment of psalms and hymns.
Dimly through the world I see, Dreary though my life may be – Forever will a praise I sing, Seeking not a blessing But the strength to come shining through; Clutching at your hand as children do Clinging to nothing else but you: Tender keeper of my dreams.
I haven’t participated in the Weekly Photo Challenge in a l-o-n-g time. For a blog with the the word desert included in the title, it has long seemed to me that I ought to incorporate more photos of the desert.
Having lived here for nearly one-fourth of my life, here are the photos that have been stored away (meaning: forgotten) in my archives (physical photo albums are so much better at reminding us of our past).
When the children were smaller, I looked forward to spring because I always woke up to a rainbow across the white rice cooker in the kitchen. Since I started to garden, however, spring’s association with renewed life and all its extant hopes have all but died. While residents in temperate countries look forward to coming out of winter to a world filled with color, here in the Levant residents literally feel the summer heat even before the first of April. In recent years, April marks the start of a drought of garden blooms. It’s when the gardener uproots the dried stalks of zinnias and other flowers that sparked joy through the cold months of December, January and February.
Lately, the dreariness that April brings has been compounded by grief over friends who leave. Last year a dear friend flew away on April 8. This year another close friend is returning home for good at the end of the month. Who, I wonder, will leave next April?
Perhaps it was fitting then that the month of April began with rain, an anomaly considering that our section of the desert receives rain only once or twice a year and we’d already gotten several days’ worth in early March. Thus when T.S. Eliot’s words popped up on my screen on April Fools’ Day, it seemed like an ironic and tasteless if not apt joke.
April is the cruellest month, breeding (it sure is starting to feel that way) Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing (my garden will soon be a dead land) Memory and desire, stirring (why does memory always stir desire?) Dull roots with spring rain. (April began with rain this year) Winter kept us warm, covering (winter blooms always warm me up) Earth in forgetful snow, feeding (ah snow – I’ve yet to experience that) A little life with dried tubers. (what I think of my existence: a little life)
Eliot’s The Waste Land, long considered a masterpiece of modern poetry, is a difficult poem to understand for its many allusions lost to post-modern readers and for the varying voices of its speaker (or the switch between different characters). That it is so long is also a turn-off. Its opening lines, however, grab readers – who, for example, thinks that April is the cruellest month?I sure didn’t until I lived in the desert. In my childhood, April meant lazy summer days spent reading and eating. In my adulthood, April meant continuing work.
There are poems that reveal themselves only after one has undergone an experience that enables one to comprehend, even though you know what it’s all about. Does that make sense? If it helps, I’ve harvested dried tubers from our backyard. Well, anyway, reading the first stanza two nights ago felt like a flash into one’s psyche.What serendipity! So I googled the rest even though I knew it was going to be a long read.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
The second stanza above has three biblical references, would you believe? I have no desire to go through a line-by-line or stanza-by-stanza analysis of the poem here even though there are many, many lines that grab me. Others have done it. Yes, Eliot’s depiction of man’s growing selfishness is a hard piece to follow or swallow since his view of man’s social and spiritual decay is not declared outright but via snippets of conversation (one of which is between two women in a pub discussing the other’s abortion) and scenes of everyday life (one of which is copulation between uninterested lovers as seen through the eyes of the poet Tiresias from Greek mythology).
Suffice it to say that if you’re in a blue mood, Eliot’s pensive, insightful prose can give comfort, yes, despite its desolate tone and gloomy critique of the world he lived in. Eliot’s despair at the collapse of Western civilization as it was before the Great War makes one pause and think that we, like Eliot’s generation, will return to a handful of dust someday and that we should strive to rise above a life that is a heap of broken images.
Then spoke the thunder
Datta: what have we given?
My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment’s surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed
Which is not to be found in our obituaries
Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider
Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor
In our empty rooms
Dayadhvam: I have heard the key
Turn in the door once and turn once only
We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison
Only at nightfall, aethereal rumours
Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus
Damyata: The boat responded
Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar
The sea was calm, your heart would have responded
Gaily, when invited, beating obedient
To controlling hands
I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?
London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam uti chelidon—O swallow swallow
Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
Shantih shantih shantih
Lastly, isn’t it fascinating that after showing the decline of Western culture and referencing the Bible so many times, Eliot ends with the words Datta, Dayadham, Damyata? Taken from the Upanishads of the Hindu religion, they translate to give, show compassion and exercise self-control.
Does that mean Eliot believes that these tenets are the key to achieving Shantih, another Hindu word defined as the peace that passes understanding? Most probably – his deviance from the Bible (but not biblical principles, remember!) could mean that he was disillusioned at a religion long associated with the West for failing to arrest the decay of humankind into red sullen faces (that) sneer and snarl / from doors of mudcracked houses. Because of this, I personally don’t think The Waste Land ends on a slightly positive note as some readers believe.
PS. Blogging anonymously, I vacillate between having the public read my poems and the fear that Internet anonymity could lead to copyright infringement or worse, intellectual property theft. This being the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month, I shall be unlocking the password-protected poems here for the month of April. Who knows, I might even publish one from my cache!
Well … this week has been an emotional roller coaster one for me. I hosted an Easter egg hunt the day following Resurrection Sunday. It should have been an eggs-ighting affair. But then. My friend’s special needs son tore up the roses that I’d gathered from the garden earlier that day. They had smelled fabulous. Seeing them as garnishing for the grass, I was almost in tears. But. Roses are a poor excuse for turning on the taps. So I didn’t cry. I think we all had a wonderful time, though. After-dinner conversations after BBQs in the desert are always a delight.
Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.
Rainer Maria Rilke
Meanwhile … there are times when my mind gets muddled up and I can’t think clearly to write. Right now is one of them. Because. A dear friend has just given notice that she and her husband will be leaving in one month’s time.
I don’t think anyone ever gets used to farewells. Saying goodbye is a fact of life yet still, when they happen, life gets depressing in a way that no length of notice ever prepares you for.
If ever there’s a constant to expat life, especially in the UAE where the local population hovers at only 22%, it is saying good-bye. I don’t know about others but doing it often enough just. does not. get me inured against missing someone’s presence. And. I know. That I will miss my friend terribly. Because ….
This time last year I was steeling myself to live the coming days in the absence of a friend whose baked goodies arrived whenever I had a cry in the loo. How did she know when I needed cheering up? I don’t know. I don’t announce when I’ve wept buckets down the toilet. But real friends … they have this uncanny ability to sense another’s burden.
My friend who is leaving – she’s older than I am. She’s the one who has been privy to all my secrets, my hurts, my fears through all these years … heck, she’s the one who tells me I’m ugly without make-up! I know that if friends arrive bearing food, it was at her instigation. When I declined an invitation to join our church ladies’ plan to go on a restaurant cruise, she – being the treasurer – paid for an extra seat then coerced me into coming along, knowing that I’d enjoy it as a treat away from the kids.
But perhaps I should not let this wave of melancholy wash over even as I feel that staying connected via texts and FB is a poor substitute for face-to-face communication. Reunions happen. Just last week we, the hubby and I, had a lovely time having coffee in the garden with a couple who flew back to our town after returning home for good two years ago. They had accepted our invitation to stay behind after service even though they were scheduled to travel to Abu Dhabi with their four kids the following morning. While our children bounced up and down the trampoline, I asked questions:
How do you feel about the influx of refugees to your country? They answered in the affirmative. Would you feel that way had you not lived here and interacted with them? Both husband and wife shook their heads. We went on to talk about other sundry matters. Child discipline. Angela Merkel. House renovations. Raising boys. Christian living. After they left, I gave thanks for the experience then reflected on how much we are all the same even though we have different skin colors. How much we are all enriched whenever we reach out and exchange ideas with others! This last was an especially meaningful insight since the hubby had dragged me to a meet-up with people whom I didn’t know just days before this reunion.
A week or two ago, I learned a new word courtesy of The Artidote:
pistanthrophobia n. the fear of trusting people due to past experiences and relationships gone bad.
My first reaction was “So this is it!” It was a relief to finally put a word to an emotion that has been with me for so long yet remained unnamed.
It’s another fact of life that as you grow older, some friends fall by the wayside. I don’t wish to elaborate further on this except to say that some experiences make you treasure those friends who have proven time and again to be real. Yes, there will be times when you’re pissed off with one another, times to cool off until a day when the warmth returns as if nothing has happened. Right now, even as I ready my mind not to see another friend who will be leaving in three months’ time, all I can think of is …
This friend … she’s real. That’s why I treasure her. We’ve both gone through cycles of cooling off, yes. Funny thing is, when I first met her, I didn’t think we’d hit it off. But then, my friendships are always like that. Those individuals who’ve become close because of shared values and interests are usually those who gave first impressions that turned me off.
In a murderous time the heart breaks and breaks and lives by breaking. It is necessary to go through dark and deeper dark and not to turn. Stanley Kunitz, The Testing Tree
Ten years ago, I cried a whole day when the family of a friend immigrated to the US. Several months later, I wept for another day when another family left. To avoid the pain of separation, I told myself one must not get close enough to people. But then life happens. Without knowing it, certain individuals – some with quirks you can’t even tolerate in your children or husband – sneak unnoticed into the heart. And expat life does not help. Living so far away from home, one’s walls tumble down over time.
Even as I write this, I know that the symphony of life will continue, the music cresting in moments that catch us unaware till their passing. The coming months will bring new people into my life, some of whom will creep into the heart unknowingly until one day one realizes that they have become friends who – as Marie Kondo so aptly puts it – spark joy.
In the meantime, I will read. Because. Books remain the only unchanging (material) constant in this ever shifting world of mine.
The words you can’t find, you borrow. We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. Gabrielle Zevin, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Hmmm. It appears that my taste in poetry is sadly out of date according to yesterday’s readings. Thing is, one has to buy the latest poetry books to keep up to date (of course these new poets are not going to post their poetry online like you and I do – they’ve usually got tenure and royalty to claim from their published books) and poetry books are at the bottom of my wishlist.
Anyway, thank goodness for the Web! So. Here below are several sonnets (okay, they’re not strictly sonnets!) that grabbed me the most yesterday. I wonder: does anyone else spend VDay immersed in verse?
I love you as the sunlight leads the prow
Of a ship which sails
From Hartford to Miami, and I love you
Best at dawn, when even before I am awake the sun
Receives me in the questions which you always pose.
Kenneth Koch, To You
If you’re sick of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s How Do I Love Thee? read Kenneth Koch’s ode to his love here.
That morning, when she asked me to leave, wearing only The apricot tinted, fraying chemise, I wanted to stay. But I also wanted to go, to lose her suddenly, almost For no reason, & certainly without any explanation. I remember looking down at a pair of singular tracks Made in a light snow the night before, at how they were Gradually effacing themselves beneath the tires Of the morning traffic, & thinking that my only other choice Was fire, ashes, abandonment, solitude.
(Larry Levis, My Story in a Late Style of Fire)
Read Larry Levis’ entire poem here(I guarantee you a gut-wrenching read!)
Not a red rose or a satin heart.
I give you an onion. It is a moon wrapped in brown paper. It promises light like the careful undressing of love.
Here. It will blind you with tears like a lover. It will make your reflection a wobbling photo of grief.
I am trying to be truthful.
Not a cute card or a kissogram.
I give you an onion. Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips, possessive and faithful as we are, for as long as we are.
Take it. Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring, if you like.
Lethal. Its scent will cling to your fingers, cling to your knife.
(Carol Ann Duffy, Valentine)
Sigh! Wish I could write like that … ah well, who else but a poet would try to offer an onion to his/her object of affection? (Update: British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy is coming to Dubai for the 8th Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on March 1-12 … am so excited! )
i think of lovers as trees, growing to and from one another searching for the same light, my mothers laughter in a dark room, a photograph greying under my touch, this is all i know how to do, carry loss around until i begin to resemble every bad memory, every terrible fear, every nightmare anyone has ever had.
i ask did you ever love me? you say of course, of course so quickly that you sound like someone else i ask are you made of steel? are you made of iron? you cry on the phone, my stomach hurts
i let you leave, i need someone who knows how to stay. Warsan Shire
Warsan Shire’s verses contain so much honesty, they make you cry. And think about what it’s like to be a black African woman today. She’s not the only one to write with raw honesty that verges on the sublime, though. Below are some verses written during the Middle Ages (believe it or not!)
If anyone asks you how the perfect satisfaction of all our sexual wanting will look, lift your face and say,
When someone mentions the gracefulness of the nightsky, climb up on the roof and dance and say,
If anyone wants to know what “spirit” is, or what “God’s fragrance” means, lean your head toward him or her. Keep your head toward him or her.
When someone quotes the old poetic image about clouds gradually uncovering the moon slowly loosen knot by knot the strings of your robe.
If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead, don’t try to explain the miracle. Kiss me on the lips.
Like this. Like this.
(Rumi, Like This)
It’s hard to believe the verses above were written by a Sufi mystic/poet. Read Like This and other Rumi poems here and be stirred by words written several centuries ago. Of course, Sufi mystics and lovestruck musicians don’t have a monopoly on sexually charged verses. According to the Bible, they’ve been around for several millenia. Don’t believe me? Consider these
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! Song of Songs 1:2
He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. Sustain me with raisins; refresh me with apples, for I am sick with love. His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me! Song of Songs 2:4-6
I will seek him whom my soul loves. I sought him, but found him not. The watchmen found me as they went about in the city. “Have you seen him whom my soul loves?” Scarcely had I passed them when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go until I had brought him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her who conceived me. Song of Songs 3:2-4
Hopefully, these three examples are sufficient to show that Scripture contains content of an erotic nature. Of course, some of the metaphors are now obscured by time …
Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing, all of which bear twins, and not one among them has lost its young. Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely. Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil. Your neck is like the tower of David, built in rows of stone; on it hang a thousand shields, all of them shields of warriors. Song of Songs 4:1-4
But. Believe me, listening to a read-aloud of certain verses from Song of Songs can put my significant other in a romantic mood. Anyway, for those die-hard romantics, here’s one from Neruda, er, E.e. Cummings (a friend suggested I print it out, hence the photo). The roses came from my garden – yes, roses bloom in the desert soil and aren’t they lovely?
Speaking of writing in a digital age, The Atlantic’s A Modern Guide to the Love Letter is a seriously funny piece! Meaning, it gave several laugh-out-loud moments. Of course not everyone will appreciate such an article. After all, not everyone remembers receiving snail mail or the fastidiousness associated with writing love letters. But I do since I was sometimes asked to do so by my classmates at university.
Lastly, if the overdose of literary expressions of love or whatever sentiment yesterday made you puke, consider this post-modern take on love from a Romantic poet. Belated Hearts Day, everyone!
And what is love? It is a doll dress’d up
For idleness to cosset, nurse, and dandle;
A thing of soft misnomers, so divine
That silly youth doth think to make itself
Divine by loving, and so goes on
Yawning and doting a whole summer long,
Till Miss’s comb is made a pearl tiara,
And common Wellingtons turn Romeo boots;
Then Cleopatra lives at number seven,
And Antony resides in Brunswick Square.
Fools! if some passions high have warm’d the world,
If Queens and Soldiers have play’d deep for hearts,
It is no reason why such agonies
Should be more common than the growth of weeds.
Fools! make me whole again that weighty pearl
The Queen of Egypt melted, and I’ll say
That ye may love in spite of beaver hats.
(John Keats, Modern Love)