wednesday 18 june
over my terrified
body my hand moves again up to
my breast again hoping
that the lump of clay will not be there
that the hand misconstrued
that it has indeed vanished in the
meantime. the mountain stands
stripped clean and burnt through. I live by the
breath of the mountain alone.
I have no other competence. on
the windward side fringes of light sing, on
the lee side there is nought
from the waist you
blindly suppose yourself
secretly whole, you try to defuse
your body’s insurgence
against your body. let the stone lump
grow cold in the fog, let
the pine trees tilt like umbrellas in
a cortège, let my thoughts
steam to ripeness in sorrow. but I,
I am occupied this
morning: softly I coax my breasts to
unwind in foam, let them
freely drowse in tranquil fragrance, then
I rinse them in honey
to luminous shape and there where the
mammogram reveals its
blackest clot, I lather in light, I
caress with the sweetest
tonality of breath, of light-limbed
there the light soaks in so blindingly
that the black membrane feels
itself blessed by blue, diluting its
viscous toxic polyps,
dissolving them to effluence. see
the rust bleed like biestings
from my nipples. Whole like a whiplash
I want to live on this earth.
fuck-all. I feel fuck-all
for the life hereafter – it’s now that
I want to live, here that
I want to live. when I
look at you I grow sad, oh yes as
sad as the heart can see
sunday 22 june
whimpers on her hinges. I want to
touch something, hold something,
revive the wholeness that once was mine.
I want to return with
my previous body. I am not
I, without my body
only through my body can I in-
habit this earth. my soul
is my body entire. my body
embodies what I am.
do not turn against me, oh do not
ever leave me. do not
cave in around me, do not plummet
away from me, do not
die off on me, do not leave me with-
out testimony. I
have a body, therefore I am. step
into the breach for me –
yes, you are my only mandate to
engage the earth in love.
monday 23 june
the last rains of winter fall
faster than yearning or winter trees
with lymphatic systems
against the wintry light. it’s as if
I am young again in
my upper arms suddenly, and smooth
at the back of my head.
my body glows complete, my elbows
hang free with my senses
extended over my skin. I see
the mountain, maintaining
herself on her cliffs, containing her-
self in stone as stone, her-
self complete in herself. she decays
with the earth in the tongue
of eternity. I can do nought
but ascend in her with
roaring immaculate radiance
sunday 3 october
steadily the days curve
more brightly over me. the blossoms
are crushed by the wind. on
some inclines I shall never saunter
again. from the earliest
times you have been identified daily
and appropriated with
eyes and inhalations. only in
are you methodically flaked off.
my heart knows that you have
nothing to do with us, that you are
lost deep in the concept
of mountain, that the word mountain is
an abstract noun, that blue
is a verb, stone a friend, for next to
you I become she and
she he and we irrevocably
become us, because you
remain you. all in-
cantations of yearning
tilt in my chest. my pulse resounds with
poems and axillary
feathers, my blazing gizzard
buzzes with rhyme. I hone
my heart to yours. I shall never let
you leave me. words my mouth
will lose – my seams will be undone – I
speak many tongues but not
one of them any longer my own
Like last month, I didn’t get as far this month as I’d have hoped. I was rushing to finish two school assignments to close out the term (and launch into the final thesis), which of course meant I was reading a lot of stuff about development/relief work while trying to come up with a plausible topic for a thesis. But there was some good reading during May, and here is the random collection of thoughts on that. In fact this really does not qualify as “thoughts” – it’s more of a list without any reflection (beyond what I did in my head).
Thoughts on reading for May:
Ah, the late Hans Rosling gave us one last gift – this book that is so sorely needed in these times of factlessness. Some hope – the world is actually getting better. It’s just very hard to see. But the numbers, as much as they can be manipulated, do tell us a nicer story.
Sarah Kendzior has been one of the most “factful” and insightful voices of reason since the early days of Trump’s rise. For people who have no understand of middle America and how the Trump phenomenon came to be, Kendzior’s collection of essays puts it all into perspective
Poetry. Beautiful poetry.
More poetry. I don’t think anyone who has ever read this blog imagines that I love anything more than I love poetry.
Good – really good – but not necessarily great
When I started reading this one, I had no idea what to expect; it was a random library choice. It took a while to grow on me but I came to enjoy it a lot.
Without any connection to formal religion, I do feel bound to try for “the selfless practice of love, of good, of service” (as cited below). I am struck by those who claim to be “most religious” who have nothing but hatred and violence in their hearts, and have to dehumanize other groups of people to such a degree to be able to feel that way.
“For God,” she preached from her porch, “religions are nothing, signify nothing. Because positive religions are generally nothing more than words—words without feeling. Religions are practices that focus on the surface of things, that affect only the senses, but that fail to touch the soul, and fail to come from the soul. For that reason, these words and practices fail to reach our Father. What our Father wants from us is our emotions, our feelings. He demands pure love, and that love, that sentiment, is found only in the selfless practice of love, of good, of service.”
Somewhat connected to my studies, I enjoyed reading about the way disasters and subsequent aid efforts are reported, what gets attention and what doesn’t and how mystifyingly complex it is.
“The configuration of aid, media pressure, NGOs and government policy today is still directly affected, and in some ways distorted, by what was—as this narrative reveals—also an inaccurate and misleading story. In popular memory the reporting of Ethiopia and the humanitarian intervention were a triumph of journalism and altruism. Yet alternative interpretations give a radically different picture: that the reporting was misleading and the resulting aid effort did more harm than good. This book explains the event within the wider context of international news broadcasting, especially by the BBC, and looks at the way it has influenced the reporting of humanitarian disasters in subsequent years.”
Entertaining/informative/thoughtful or some combination thereof
This book made me sick – in that good way where you feel moved (whether in a positive or negative way). I was moved by that creepy, crawly disgust that comes over you when you’re sitting in a huge room full of brainwashed people. And you think, “My god, am I the only one who thinks we’re being indoctrinated into a cult?”
“There’s this new neediness—it pervades everything.”
“So many people who don’t want to be found but who will be. So many people who wanted no part of all this. That’s what’s new. There used to be the option of opting out. But now that’s over. Completion is the end. We’re closing the circle around everyone—it’s a totalitarian nightmare.”
This was a difficult book to get through. Some of it was very engaging; some was difficult, but in the right frame of mind, it’s incredible. Perception and context, of course.
“Nevertheless, the larger point that may be extrapolated from Plassmann’s experiment and countless others, which often remains unsaid, is instructive: There is no pure sensation of anything, not in feeling pain, not in tasting wine, and not in looking at art. All of our perceptions are contextually coded, and that contextual coding does not remain outside us in the environment but becomes a psycho-physiological reality within us, which is why a famous name attached to a painting literally makes it look better.”
A key analysis for our fraught times.
“A dual economy exists when there are two separate economic sectors within one country, divided by different levels of development, technology, and patterns of demand. This definition reflects the use of the Lewis model in the field of economic development, and I adapt it in this book to describe current conditions in the United States, the richest large country in the world. This is less paradoxical than it sounds because the political policies that grow out of our dual economy have made the United States appear more and more like a developing country.”
For the entire week before reading Eleanor, SD was overdosing on semi-recent episode of Law & Order: SVU because he wanted to watch one of his man-crushes (Raúl Esparza) in action. He was especially interested in finding out whether Esparza’s sartorially smart ADA Barba wore his vest (waistcoat in UK English parlance) properly, i.e. with the bottom button left unbuttoned). He was delighted to discover that the “sexy bastard” did indeed don his waistcoat exactly as prescribed.
One wouldn’t think that this kind of detail would surface again in the same week. But as it happens, Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was offered up to me after spending months on the library waiting list. I didn’t really have expectations and didn’t know what the book was about. It’s not exactly my normal reading fare, and I don’t have my finger on the beating pulse of contemporary popular fiction. I, in fact, knew nothing at all about it (except maybe that Reese Witherspoon had scooped up the film rights, which, yeah… tells me nothing about the book. Or maybe it does).
I started reading and almost immediately, the titular character echoes exactly the same things SD and I were just talking about:
“But last night, I’d found the love of my life. When I saw him walk onstage, I just knew. He was wearing a very stylish hat, but that wasn’t what drew me in. No—I’m not that shallow. He was wearing a three-piece suit, with the bottom button of his waistcoat unfastened. A true gentleman leaves the bottom button unfastened, Mummy always said—it was one of the signs to look out for, signifying as it did a sophisticate, an elegant man of the appropriate class and social standing. His handsome face, his voice . . . here, at long last, was a man who could be described with some degree of certainty as ‘husband material.’”
Indeed, a few pages later, one woman character called another “hen“, and I realized, to my surprise, that this book is Glaswegian through and through. SD is a Glaswegian (and I’m an ‘honorary’ one), and almost no one else (other than Scots in certain parts of Scotland) refers to women as “hen”.
SD and I stumbled across so many of these random coincidences – talking animatedly about some (often obscure) detail only to have it pop up again and again in the ensuing days. (Strangely, we had only the day before I read this discussed how Smirnoff vodka is not top-shelf stuff, and yet SD encountered a lot of customers when he worked in bars who turned their noses up at much nicer vodkas for some reason. And what happens in Eleanor? “I had only intended to purchase two bottles of Glen’s, but the promotional offer on Smirnoff was remarkable. Oh, Mr. Tesco, I simply cannot resist your marvelous bargains.“ And that’s ultimately why I mention this book… the strange coincidences that overlap my own conversations and experiences. (The book, too, acknowledges the delight of such serendipities):
“I shook my head, and was about to discard the newspaper when a small advertisement caught my eye. The Cuttings, it said, with a logo of a bullet train hurtling along a track. I noticed it because the answer to twelve across in yesterday’s crossword had been Shinkansen. Such small coincidences can pepper a life with interest.“
But did I like the book? I love that its canvas is Glasgow without being painfully obvious like many books that make a show of being set in a specific place, going over the top with ‘local’ details, as though it’s necessary to prove the writer was there. I’m thinking here of Douglas Coupland‘s overreach for authenticity, for example, in Microserfs; some people find the level of detail engaging; locals reading his books will nod in agreement with the accuracy, but he always goes a little too far, right over the thin line of what is clever, coming across as artificial. In Coupland’s case, as in most cases, I find it smug. I feel a need for something more subtle – like Honeyman’s use of Glasgow).
The book, though… I have mixed feelings on the book itself and on how the character of Eleanor Oliphant comes across and develops. It’s not bad at all; perhaps it is just not quite my style. I can buy into the lack of self-awareness or lack of worldliness in which Eleanor has cocooned herself. But after spending more than half the book creating this well-meaning, but not pleasant and mostly deluded (or at best uninformed) character, I don’t quite understand how, seemingly suddenly about three-quarters of the way through the story, this awkward woman who plowed through the world following her own routines, saying everything that came into her mind and judging everyone harshly with little or no self-reflection, is questioning, self-aware, confronted by a moment of clarity about herself and her delusions.
I am not saying this is not possible, nor am I saying that there is not character development leading to this (Eleanor starts to change, slowly, seeing that the world is bigger and offers more possibilities than she had allowed herself to imagine. She becomes more social and starts to live, all the way through). But the suddenness of her being slapped in the face by reality does not feel earned or quite realistic. We might have gotten there at some point. But how does she go from blind and deluded certainty about something outlandish to instantly waking up to one’s complete disconnect from reality? Is the suddenness intentional? I don’t know.
Biggest disappointment (or hated/disliked)
Happily (!) I didn’t hate anything enough to include something in the ‘disappointment’ category.