Thursday, May 31, 2007

Going Home

1.Pat Ochman's son Tommy came home from his army post on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, probably the worst place on this planet to be.

2.I was invited home for a Shabbos meal.

3.Sheryl is going home to Florida (with Jeff) at the end of June.

4.CC'02 is returning to Columbia on Saturday night for its first five year reunion.

5.Greg is going home to Louisina for a visit next week.

6.Rich came home to NYC.

7.Michael's parents came home to Brooklyn Heights.

8.Mandy MIGHT have gone home.

9.Some day Michael and Harriet will come home to Brooklyn for good.

10.Greg went home to live in Queens.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Songs. May 21, 1971

Woo me, woo me - the breeze in the springtime meadow
has turned off and is gone; they've grown still
the tightly closed sheaths of resplendent bud
that sleep, that sleep - oh woo me, woo me -
open the knot, the dream, the silent
the throbbing dream

Woo me, woo me - the stars remain frozen
in their wintry place;
like my heart
the freedom of movement this year
will not come.
Shift the pattern to a-maying
sky, so my snowbound grief will be undone.
Oh woo me - woo me


Woo me, woo me - the bright sun expands
closed-up tight petals wide;
spread in the heat
like a red primal gash -

Oh woo me, woo me,
as I tight-lipped watching

Woo me, woo me -
the wandering waves
are sucked back to the sea,
drawn by inescapable

Oh woo me, woo me


From "The Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel," by Basho, 17c

"In this mortal frame of mine which is made of a thousand bones and nine orifices there is something, and this somethinig is called a wind-swept spirit for lack of a better name, for it is much like a thin drapery that is torn and swept away at the slightest stir of the wind. This something in me took to writing poetry years ago, merely to amuse itself at first, but finally making it its lifelong occupation. It must be admitted, however, that there were times when it sank into such dejection that it was almost ready to drop its pursuit or again times when it was so puffed up with pride that it exulted in vain victories over the others. Indeed, ever since it began to write poetry, it has never found peace with itself, always wavering between doubts of one kind and another. At one time it wanted to gain security by entering the service of a court, and at another it wished to measure the depths of its ignorance by trying to be a scholar, but it was prevented from either because of its unquenchable love of poetry. The fact is, it knows no other art than the art of writing poetry, and, therefore, it hangs on to it more or less blindly."

from THE RECORDS of a TRAVEL-WORN SATCHEL, by Basho, 17c

Friday, May 18, 2007

Memorial Day, 1971

It's not what it should be on this day,
the 31st of May seems
to have come too soon this year,
arriving before the sun.
In the rain - the constant rain -
the buds are swollen; they wait
their signal to explode,
containing meanwhile hidden
the colors, the flowers,
of eager spring.
Why can't we perceive
the intensity of the moment,
the quality of the not-quite-yet
but the intent to be?
The purple tissue of iris just visible
beneath green elastic skin.
The waiting
is always difficult; we make
of such times in our minds
a leaping forward towards
what will be or a memorial
to what already was.
Le me take
this prenatal leaf of llfe in my hand
and see nothing of summers past
or the one to come,
but only what is given right now:
this fragile strength affirming
this present, this reality.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Spring Planting

This time of year I call Phase I of Spring Planting. It involves going out back and purveying the pots and perennials I so hopefully planted last summer. One of them, a kind of asparagus leaf, was an icky mess of limp pale greens and outright dead vegetation when I looked last week. It took quite a while to remove the dead leaves; afterwards, I was not sure if the effort had been at all worthwile. Two other pots contained simply nothing but a few twigs, so the soil was dumped into garbage bags and put out front on the appropriate day. Another container, made of natural wood, had fallen apart during the winter; it will also be dumped, soil and all. Yet another window box seemed to contain some blooming weeds; I was too disheartened at this point to look closely. A round vessel, where I had planted a flower Sheryl had liked last summer, seemed to have survived, contents and all. I think I will try to deal with that today.

The nice part about Phase I is checking out everyone else's gardens. I have seen some stunning pansies: there is a new strain of pansies with enormous beautiful faces. I have also seen some lovely parrot tulips and lush wisteria. The impatiens is the same old, same old, but there seems to be some very nice multi-colored petunias around.

The last part of Phase I will be the beginning of my trips to Tamilio's and Home Depot and my commitment to tending a backyard garden this summer. After I deal with the couple of pots that remain on the patio, I'll start shlepping containers,bags of new soil and flats of tender seedlings. With this effort comes the surmise (and prayer) that I will most likely live through yet another summer - in fact, my sixtieth.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Lag Ba'Omer

Sunday was Lag Ba'Omer, a Jewish holiday shrouded in mystery. Some people think (see "Jewish Literacy," by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin) it was a day on which Rabbi Akiba's students won a victory over the Romans, who eventually killed everyone anyway. At any rate it is a day of merrymaking and festivities.

Jeff and I went to the celebration at Lindy Park, hosted by the Brikmans. Let me first say that Lindy Park, the peninsula tip of Brooklyn, is one of the overlooked gems of the world. (I used to take Jeff on the swings there when he was little, but the '02 nor'easter later swept away the playground.) The Orthodox have built a very nice erev around the grounds, and somebody just installed five park benches. The view of Manhattan of course is amazing, if one can forget the stench of the steady stream of smoke that blew over for weeks following 911. (Once one has the smell of war in one's nostrils, however, it is hard to forget it; see Salinger, "For Esme, with Love and Squalor.")

Jeff and I ate some hot dogs and said hello to all the local well-wishers who had been so kind during my illness. Isser claims he ate 30 cotton candies; there was a moon walk and a pony ride. (Jeff and I knew that since so much shit has recently come down, there had to be a pony somewhere - and we were right!) Rubi, the newspaperman, kept a bonfire going in a metal trash can. (The traditional outdoor, natural setting of the the party and the building of a fire suggest battlefields; hence Rabbi Telushkin's explanation of Lag Ba'Omer.)

After Jeff had gone back to Cobble Hill, I went with the Brikmans to the Ohel. (Lag Ba'Omer, I am told, is a VERY good day to visit the Rebbe, and the very crowded cemetery was proof enough.) I thanked the Rebbe for all the miracles he has already performed and chanted the 60th psalm from the book of Tehillin my students had just given me. Then I prayed for some more very important miracles. I had to push a little bit to get right up to the Rebbe's grave, but I succeeded.

Then I walked, still barefoot, to the left of the Ohel to search for the graves of Sheryl's father's parents. Unfortunately almost all the tombstones are entirely in Hebrew, so I could not know for sure that I had found the exact site. I had a feeling, though, that I was standing on just the right spot, so I thanked Michael Gordon's parents for the miracle, which they had performed hands-in-hand with the Rebbe, of Sheryl's arrival into our lives.

It was already quite cold and dark, and it felt to me as if the dead had already been resurrected - if only just in spirit: a truly mystical moment.

On the way out, there were a few graves with English inscriptions. The simple REST IN PEACE struck me suddently not as cliched but as almost entirely adequte. On my gravestone only one more word needs to be added: REST IN PEACE (FINALLY).

Back in the enclosed area, I put my shoes back on, ate some cookies, washed my hands, and left some tzedakah. Isser needed help purchasing a small carton of chicken soup from the vending machine, so I helped him. I ate some more cookies.

After a short stop in Crown Height, we went back home and to bed. It had been a very good day.

Friday, May 4, 2007

The Man I Used to Know

I met Greg on a blind date 32 1/2 years ago. An old fraternity brother of his with whom I was teaching in Harlem had fixed us up. (Actually, the frat brother had the hots for me but was married. Very married, sort of - you know, the type who brags about his homemade chocolate brownies in the teachers' lunchroom every day, possibly to compensate for a priapism that he seemed unable otherwise to control.)

I fell in love with Greg immediately, though he said that his first impression of me was, "This is not an attractive girl." Greg, however, was a very attractive man, though he wore his totally broken soul on his Bloomie's jacket sleeve. In fact, the utter brokenness of his heart was a very endearing quality: his first wife had betrayed him; his profession had not worked out; his stepmother was out to get him; his father was following his current wife and Greg's real mother and sister had long ago run away to parts unknown. I, of course, would save him. I would save him, and he would stay with me forever: that was our unspoken deal.

After a few weeks, I followed him to London and Paris, where we got engaged. Everyone thought we were crazy to get engaged so soon: we, in fact, KNEW that we were nuts, and that only added to the charm. Buckingham Palace, The Who, Samuel Johnson's house, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the patisseries - one endless whirl of wonderful places and times to retrieve and remember and savor in the dark days that would come.

In my naivete, I thought that such wonderful fun would heal his broken heart. Of course it did not. Soon after our very short engagement and sudden marriage, which had been essentially boycotted by the family members he cared about the most, the dampness inside Greg's soul only became worse. Unable to help him, the darkness spread to me, and the horrors of repressed pasts and our mutually horrendous present overcame us both.

So we left the complexities of Queens, New York and moved to the lush greens of Greg's childhood Louisiana, where we learned that G-d, family, love and good home cooking could cure the soul. Two years later we were fit as fiddles and moved to Texas.

And we flourished: we worked; we bought a house; we shopped; we explored a pristine city; we found intellectual stimulation in the deserts of Dallas. We became pregnant! We raised a son via simple, unspoken rules: We would give Jeff all of our hearts, all of our devotion and all of our love. Greg, shy Greg, found his own way at bridge games at lunchtime at Chilton Corporation, where he climbed the ranks. And I spent my days totally in love with my baby boy.

Greg - MY Greg - always there for my son and me. ALWAYS THERE. No matter the time of the day or night, he would do our biddings. At 6PM every night he would open the screen door and hear Jeff call out the Sesame Street number and letter of the day. In those years he fit Gloria Steinem's definition of a perfect husband: He would NEVER say anything bad about me in my absence; he could always be trusted to care properly for our son when I was not around.

And then everything changed: the bottom fell out of Dallas, and Chilton needed to banish Greg because the company was going to be sold.. The beginnings of hormonal diseases were brewing in him; at the same time, I lost my mother, became hooked on Xanax and needed badly to go back home. The betrayals and the breaches of trust, too painful even now to dissect and describe, became more numerous and difficult to ignore; MY Greg had disappeared.

Back home in NYC, we three struggled. Sometimes we struggled alone; sometimes we struggled together. As Jeff grew older, he came and went more and more. As Greg and I became older, he went more than he came. Soon I found myself frequently eating alone in restaurants; I also found myself turning away from my family and towards people who had known me in NY long before the Dallas days.

Then Jeff left for Columbia. Although we remained the parents who climbed the Heights on weekends and took everyone out on special occasions, our lives had already radically changed. I never knew where my husband went after work almost every night; he pretended he did not know how I spent my evenings while he was away.

But that was only the beginning of the end. MY Greg still rushed to my school after 911 to make sure I was all right. MY Greg helped me with my Computer homework during the year of my precious sabbatical; MY Greg became my best friend again for the brief while that Jeff was away in London.

Then came the true end. The day after Mother's Day, two years ago, Greg moved out. Even the arguments, which had grown progressively louder and more bitter, ended without either of us being aware of the silence: We had simply stopped talking. At some unknown point, we had stopped seeing each other as people and only acknowledged our own unspoken grievances and complaints.

We had become divorced on March 15, 2007, five days before Greg saw me through the removal of my cancerous kidney. I have never seen his apartment in Forest Hills, and never will; the pain would simply be too great. He still has some clothing and books here at home to use when he returns on weekends for certain family events...

I do not know how much longer I will live, but I know I want him in my life. I do not know how soon I will die, but I know I'll want to die in his arms when the time comes.

The tears are streaming down my strange, post-cancer face as I write because I can still see that handsome, grief- stricken man - MY Greg - who came to my door 32 1/2 years ago. I believed he would stay forever.