happiness accordion


One day recently my mom and I had a discussion about accordions. She has and used to play an accordion. She saw a program on tv about Petosa Accordions of Seattle. And not a day later I talked to someone who collects accordions. All I could think of was this poem by Carl Sandburg.

-Carl Sandburg
I asked the professors who teach the meaning of life to tell
me what is happiness.
And I went to famous executives who boss the work of
thousands of men.
They all shook their heads and gave me a smile as though
I was trying to fool with them
And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out along
the Desplaines river
And I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees with
their women and children and a keg of beer and an

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

“Never again is what you swore the time before”


“What sticks to memory, often, are those odd little fragments that have no beginning and no end” –The Things They CarriedTim O’Brien

She waited for him to come to his senses, emerge from the sleep they had been enmeshed in for months, possibly even years. But no, the deep voice of stability and the grip of a steady hand continued to greet her each day. Perhaps because they had each already gone grey before finding each other and understood the calculus of what each had given up versus what each had gained by being together, the radical madness of young, unbridled romance was missing. But no, the electric tingling and orgasmic singeing of the fingertips, fire spreading rapidly to the internal organs, betrayed not just a lust one associates with youth but also an abiding and unretractable love, warmth and a mutual, complicit almost-ownership the likes of which neither had felt before.

Still, the emotional safety brought about by his reassuring adultness never quite allowed for the erasure of this nagging voice, whispering repeatedly before crying out, “Any minute now, he will come to his senses,” even as he spent long afternoons tending their garden, year after year, putting seeds into the ground that would not come to fruition for many more years. He was firmly rooted, encircled by and entwined in a whole world of nourishment. Watching him working, she wondered whether she had ever seen something so basic and beautiful.

But her nagging inner voice was accompanied by nagging ears, ears opened to listening to the sounds echoing from the past. Phantoms sometimes returned to haunt after many years, singing songs of regret, lament, actions not taken and whole imagined lifetimes not lived: “But sometimes it would strike me suddenly, watching you walk across the room: ‘fucking hell she is beautiful’. Those lips, those eyes, the high cheekbones. It was arresting and would take my breath away. But I couldn’t act. I couldn’t show you those parts of myself.” Hollow words spoken as a long overdue attempt to display some sensitivity that never existed. Empty attempts to make what had happened seem more substantial, as though he could have taken all that time back and redone it, even though in reality, he never would have wanted to in reality. Idealizing vague memories decoupled from what actually was.

Are these old admissions from a derelict entanglement even worth listening to? No, never again – again. No, the garden grows and grows with nowhere for weeds to hide.

Telephone the power-house


Her Lips are Copper Wire
Jean Toomer

Whisper of yellow globes
Gleaming on lamp-posts that sway
Like bootleg licker drinkers in the fog

And let your breath be moist against me
Like bright beads on yellow globes

Telephone the power-house
That the main wires are insulate

(her words play softly up and down
dewy corridors of billboards)

then with your tongue remove the tape
and press your lips to mine
till they are incandescent

Deflect – deflect – defect… Personal responsibility


So maybe, just maybe, you could make a version of a relationship contract – only make it about the relationship with yourself first. The writer of this article claims that codifying the terms of her relationship made her finally feel that there was room for her in her own relationship. I am sure we have all been there – so eager to please, or so eager to be loved, or just to preserve harmony (or whatever our multitudes of reasons) that we would “consent to give a finger and then an arm” (Marge Piercy) to let the relationship, or the lie of the relationship, persist.

The writer explains, “Writing a relationship contract may sound calculating or unromantic, but every relationship is contractual; we’re just making the terms more explicit. It reminds us that love isn’t something that happens to us — it’s something we’re making together. After all, this approach brought us together in the first place.”

She could be right. But perhaps she is jumping the gun. It is not really possible to define your needs or yourself within a relationship without first figuring out what your own must-haves are. Sure, maybe you can come to these conclusions (or whatever sliding-scale needs you have) in conversation with another, but it would not hurt to do some self-reflection first. Maybe even draft a little contract with yourself: after all, you will have must-haves and some things you cannot live with and should create thresholds, things that will trigger a built-in kill switch.

Dreaded wishlist

Perhaps this self-involved contract would become something like a dreaded wishlist, but certainly there must be must-haves and makes-or-breaks for many people who feel they are on a determined life path or have specific things they want to achieve. Figuring out what those things are and making a semi-flexible promise to yourself to consider these things when you find yourself flailing … it couldn’t hurt, and could help hone some of the instincts a bit better (so you wouldn’t necessarily need this contract later).

Sure, I didn’t like being on someone’s to-do list as an abstract concept once I realized I was a means to an end – who would? But that is why you communicate and try to determine that you are on the same life path or want the same things. It won’t always work, but it’s a start. This is basic relationship 101 stuff… and people in their 30s probably should have some basic experience with this.

We know that people often enter relationships and quietly hope that their perseverance will lead to change in the other person. Or will secretly hope that, despite all signs pointing to the contrary, the two are somehow on the same page. Not all people, not all relationships. But for example, if you get involved with someone of another religious faith, can you reasonably assume (but then as a person of no faith, I don’t see reason attached to faith and the people who believe in and practice religion, so this is a rhetorical, (oxy)moronic question) that you will fill their heart with the light of your truth (or, much more likely, wear them down to begrudgingly tolerate your faith – making for a half-lived life of resentment – for both of you)?

Why try to sand and sculpt a reluctant person into what s/he isn’t when there are probably more than a few people who already believe what you do or who want what you do? Of course this is oversimplifying the complexity and desperation and pigheadedness of our world, filled as it is with farkakte schmucks and putzes, brimming with hopeful romantics and determined would-be breeders, feeders, leaders and seeders. With older people especially, the pool is limited. Time is of the essence, but this urgency is also what leads to coupling up and projecting traits and hopes that are not and will never be there. We know this but proceed anyway, even though it’s almost inevitably headed nowhere good.

Resentment: Take poison, expect other person to die

And despite how hurt or embittered we are by this (temporary, usually), feeling we were misled or that our time was wasted, shouldn’t we take a dose of our own medicine? Personal responsibility for what we failed to see or admit, our failure to look at the big picture or to look at the situation through the other person’s eyes? After all, as cliched and half-baked as this sounds, the longer you cling to the resentment, the longer you are putting off getting on with it – and finding whatever traits in another that you included your personal contract with yourself.

We wee dullards


On Dullness
Alexander Pope
Thus Dulness, the safe Opiate of the Mind,
The last kind Refuge weary Wit can find,
Fit for all Stations, and in each content
Is satisfy’d, secure, and innocent:
No Pains it takes, and no Offence it gives,
Un-fear’d, un-hated, un-disturb’d it lives.
–And if each writing Author’s best pretence,
Be but to teach the Ignorant more Sense;
Then Dulness was the Cause they wrote before;
As ’tis at last the Cause they write no more;
So Wit, which most scorn it does pretend,
With Dulness first began, in Dulness last must end.

mouth on mine


When the mouth is but a funhouse or a hydrant. And we otherwise want to spend our days reading poetry.

Your mouth on mine
Hilde Domin

Your mouth on mine.
I lose all outline.
Thousands of tiny blossoms
all over my body.

You kissed me tenderly
and went.

Dry shame like a fire
is red
on my belly and breasts.


Dein Mund auf meinem.
Ich verlor allen Umriß.
Tausend kleine Blüten
öffneten ihre Kelche
auf meinem Körper.

Du küßtest mich zärtlich
und gingst.

Trockene Scham wie ein Feuer
stand rot mir
auf Bauch und Brüsten.

the leathery leaves


This poem in its simplicity gets me every time. It cuts right to that vaguely poignant but pity-filled realization that dawns when some variation of the following occurs. Invariably, some character from the long-distant past, about whom one was whipped into a frenzied lather so very many years ago but whom one has almost entirely forgotten in life’s ensuing whirlwind, reappears. In the ‘old days’, this character had been aloof, cool, compartmentalizing. I belonged only to one sliver of his life, for example. And I would agonize. This character never really cared, or at least never showed it then.

This character appears again long after being rinsed away, eroded from conscious memory. And suddenly in this twilight between the last moments of clinging to some semblance of youth and the outer edges of middle age, this character remembers me in alarming detail, which I can only regard with some curiosity and dispassionate distance. I’ve never believed in living in the past or revisiting it, although the way this poem is written cleverly ignites mild nostalgia without making its narrator succumb to it.

A Woman Meets an Old Lover
Denise Levertov

‘He with whom I ran hand in hand
kicking the leathery leaves down Oak Hill Path
thirty years ago

appeared before me with anxious face, pale,
almost unrecognized, hesitant,

He whom I cannot remember hearing laugh out loud
but see in mind’s eye smiling, self-approving,
wept on my shoulder.

He who seemed always
to take and not give, who took me
so long to forget,

remembered everything I had so long forgotten.’

The grit of language


As someone in love with language, the perils and challenges of translation and the cultural concepts that are embedded in language, I was thrilled to read about the Positive Lexicography Project. The interactive project, spearheaded by Dr Tim Lomas, catalogs and categorizes words/concepts (in this case, positive traits, feelings, experiences and states) that have very specific meanings in a language but have no direct equivalent or translation in English.

It’s not a new project, but I just stumbled onto it now. I’m in love.

Image by Brenda Godinez on Unsplash

Book ends


“…feeling of humiliation is simply the feeling of being an object. Once this is grasped, it can become the basis of an aggressive lucidity thanks to which the critique of the organization of life can no longer be detached from the immediate inception of the project of living otherwise.” –The Revolution of Everyday Life, Raoul Vaneigem

Each time I find myself falling into the kind of doubt brought about by being too much in my own head, luckily, last-minute spontaneity (is there any other kind than last minute, though?) propels me back into a world full of people and noise. With absolutely no plan I dashed away for all of 24 hours, door-to-door, even though I had only just come home, had only just done the long drive from the airport, had only just settled in to enjoy half of the Midsommar weekend before returning to work from a too-short vacation. Unsettled by a strange melancholy, though, when a sudden opportunity arose, I jumped at it, and off I flew off to a former stomping ground for an event that served as a kind of an end of endings.

But my god how tired I am now. Do I feel more settled? No. Perhaps, though, more determined. I can’t easily explain this. What kind of determination?

Between reading just about everything Naomi Klein ever wrote (these books make me so angry), I found my “quick-read break” in Roxane Gay’s Hunger. Not that it was a breezy book, but it was further evidence (all thoughtful memoirs seem to provide this) that humans are cruel; humans are resilient; human individuals are beset and defined by tremendous fear and doubt; human individuals do not love themselves much but may come to love themselves, piece by piece, against all odds, only through some miraculous maneuvering, experience and remarkable perseverance.

And it seems, at least in a world where we have too much time to luxuriate in the suffering of our own misery and self-reflection, these experiences and doubts are fundamentally universal. How many of us have gone into some kind of self-imposed exile, real or within our own bodies or minds? How many of us have self-medicated pain away in a thousand different ways? How many of us have indeed desperately wanted to curry favor with some other person, or god forbid, make them love us, losing or never knowing ourselves or our desires, by submitting to whatever they want – or even what we think they want?

I don’t know that this strange combination of need-to-hide but need-to-please ever completely leaves; it shifts and is not the primary driver of one’s behavior. It does not get one into as much trouble. Less patience and tolerance for the whims, fantasies and projections of others, yes. Pushing back and asserting boundaries, yes. Finding healthier management mechanisms, maybe. But complete immunity? I don’t think it exists. Is this process, though, what I mean by ‘determination’?

Photo by Matt Alaniz on Unsplash