Flying back and forth between the chinese tallow and the holly - maybe only about a handful of waxwings are enjoying the holly berries at any one time.
Tomorrow I head up to Virginia once again for the weekend - and when I return, I'm pretty sure that the red berries will be completely gone from the 25' tall holly - and the cedar waxwings will be long gone, in search of the next best lunch special. I love this ritual of the birds - how out of the corner of your eye you can recognize that they are back, and how by a glance around the garden you can tell that they are gone, for yet another season.
My trips to Virginia now are unpredictable - yes, I can get a feel for how things might go, but that sense of control is not real. My mother sounded quite good this week, until tonight, and tonight she sounded distant and less positive and unhappy. Fortunately my brother will arrive late tonight from Vermont, and I will arrive by dinner time tomorrow evening - having both of us there is a boost for my father, and often for my mother -- we will just have to wait and see. I'm relieved to know that as of this week, there is a health care professional visiting their home at least twice a week - this person will evaluate medicines and my mother's general condition.
Much of this disease now is managing and manuevering each change, the side effects that come from such an assault and the medications required to buffer it (with all of this 'wrapped' into the elusive condition we describe as 'quality of life') - my parents are fortunate to have excellent insurance coverage, including a longterm health care insurance policy - but all I can think about some days is...how do people manage a terminal illness while living in a constant state of fear about the cost of it all? I can't imagine adding that additional stress into the mix. We know that in so many ways we are lucky (and that it is important to keep reminding ourselves of this).
The week flew by - starting with the memorial service for a colleague, meetings, one meeting with a prospective student (a master's degree student) who will be on a Fulbright for part of his degree program, another meeting on website development, a gathering of the laboratory once again (to continue helping a doctoral student prepare for her oral qualifiers for her doctoral program) - and today I worked from home, and together several of us submitted three abstracts from the lab for a meeting held in late summer.
So on Wednesday, when the lab gathered as we always try to do - Katherine shared with us a story, a lab story - one that she later wrote down and shared with me, and one that I will share with you now (in her words). I like this story, and today while speaking with the eclair-making postdoc on the phone (yes, revealed here to actually have a name) - we debated whether I could contribute to the lab's sustainability by growing cotton or peas. I think I desperately presented the case for cotton - but I'm not so sure that the eclair-making postdoc was convinced. He definitely leaned towards peas for my one-acre estate.
Ahhhh...idle chatter. It's the stuff that rich lives are made of.
As we do the work of bacterial isolations, Wes and I like to entertain ourselves with idle talk. We were considering the coming economic hardships as perhaps an opportunity to restructure according to a more sustainable model; the topic quickly degenerated to a doomsday scenario. I mused that Richard and I could probably farm our half-acre, but that we’d need a few more people, and if Wes would sit on the porch with a ready fire-arm, that contribution alone would entitle him to a share. He asked me if there’s any role for the poet in a subsistence society, and I said “story-teller,” thinking of fulfilling the need people have for narrative.
In the light of Wes’s profound question and my short and sketchy response, I would like us to consider the work of poet Gregory Orr.
Orr killed his brother in a childhood firearm incident; during the civil rights era he was jailed. His early experience with tragedy and conflict outfit him especially well to enact the drive to transform trauma into art, to make small containers for overwhelming feelings. Orr says, “It starts with love and death. Love poetry and lament poetry have survival value for the poet. It’s that simple.”
I further reflect that to the extent that our culture has provided us with security against the constant death and danger that are the terms under which most other creatures live, it has also marginalized the role of the poet.
Gregory Orr was born in Albany and grew up in the Hudson Valley. He teaches at UVA in Charlottesville, where he founded the MFA in Writing in 1975.
The poems that Katherine read to us were from The Caged Owl ( April 2002, Copper Canyon Press). As a side note, as Katherine mentions, Orr lives in Charlottesville, Virginia and teaches at the University of Virginia - yes, the same town where my parents live and where I will drive to tomorrow. (You can listen to him here).
In the dawn light these white girders
are the bones we want to be free of.
The water calls to me,
saying: Your body is here with us.
Where have you been? We were waiting.
Return to yourself.
A black biplane crashes through the window
of the luncheonette. The pilot climbs down,
removing his leather hood.
He hands me my grandmother’s jade ring.
No, it is two robin’s eggs and
a telephone number: yours.
I invited Mozart to dinner
on condition he didn’t
In the middle of the meal
he began weeping uncontrollably.
“You silly fuck,” I screamed,
“what are you doing
in this century
if you can’t take it?”