“Anyone Who Has Left Love” (by Sharon Olds)

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Anyone who has left love,
who has stepped out of the boat, onto
the water, learns what they had not known
or wanted to. Anyone
who turns their back on love, as if
it might not take too long for them to go
all the way around and come up behind it—
anyone who lets love go,
opens their hand while walking through
a crowd, as if getting, piece by piece,
rid of evidence, will lose,
along with evidence of the thing,
the thing itself. Anyone
who sets love down, and takes their eyes
away, anyone who travels far
when love is home, anyone
who homes alone when love is far,
will lose what cannot be found. Maybe they
thought love was the earth under
the road, or the road under the sole
of the shoe or the foot under the body but by now it is
back there. It was a bush like a fire,
and now—no more fragrance or light
will be inhaled, or seen, as when
you die you will not see the world again.
Even if you thought you had not
believed you were loved, something in you
knew that you were—and you stepped right off love’s roof.

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What blogging has taught me etcetera

Blogging

Four years ago, when I started my blog ruminationville, the word “blogger” was often used to disparage someone who either had limited writing skill or who thought more highly of his or her skill, personal magnetism, and importance than others might have done.

While the term still manages to purse some lips (as in “She’s not a writer; she’s just a blah-gger.”), and while a needless blog is born just about every second, I’m not much taunted by the negative connotations the word can conjure.

Starting a blog (and then having to call up enough discipline to maintain it week after week) has given me more moxie than I could have imagined for myself. Whereas before I couldn’t even see myself writing for an online audience of one, now I think along these lines: Come one, come all. Read me or don’t read me. Follow me, don’t follow me, or unfollow me. Like me or don’t like me. Just don’t land on this wobbly little planet of me looking to make a bit of stupid trouble. I’m shy and yielding, yes. That’s my nature. But when it comes to stupid trouble, I can be fierce.

So, what have I learned while I’ve been blogging? These things:

  1. People in this BuzzFeed era have become accustomed to headlines that seduce and alarm (as in “This One Ridiculously Crazy Idea Will Scare the Holy Bejesus Out of You!”), but I won’t write a ridiculously shocking headline unless I have something ridiculously shocking to say, which so far is never.
  2. In this age of online news-bite consumptionism, people have come to adore lists. I have come to adore lists, and I can be drawn to an article that promises I will discover the meaning of life if I follow six simple steps.
  3. Still, I try and stay away from giving easy, empty, unlived advice.
  4. I have absolutely no way of knowing, or predicting, if what I have written will appeal to readers. I can post something I think no one will find interesting, and my “like” stars will light up like tiny, pointy Christmas bulbs. Or, I can post something I am certain everyone will think is pure genius, and the only response I will get is nothing.

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Star stuff

torn screen

A thin, naked

branch scraping

her lacquered nails down

and up the bedroom

window like a pointless

backscratch reminds

me we are the same

star stuff the same

sorrow the same

sackcloth of bones

and wails the same

hunger and heat

we hide from

the one

who says,

“You know we love you. Right?”

 …

Alone in her bedroom a young mother shouts,

“Don’t pretend you can’t hear me!” and smirks,

those teeth, front-gapped,

those eyes, dark and empty—

on the walnut nightstand sits

a drained bottle of bourbon,

beneath it an oval

burn mark the size of a

child’s scabbed knee.

 …

 By the pond a peeper

announces the arrival of

spring, his biology

unhiding a loin-longing

he cannot escape.

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Can’t make cents of it

pennies

Yesterday, I met a new acquaintance for a cup of coffee (well, he had chai), but that rendezvous, and what led to it, is another story. Later, I made my way to my car and discovered I had left the keys in the ignition and the doors unlocked, though, oddly—and you will soon see why—the doors usually automatically lock after a short period of time. You can imagine, then, how grateful I was that a) the doors had remained unlocked for several hours, b) no one had stolen the car, and c) I didn’t have to wait interminably for roadside assistance to come find me and break in through a window.

Once inside, I saw something eerie in the change holder that sits in the front under the radio—something that had not been there the last time I remembered looking: 28 grimy pennies. Typically I put only quarters in the holder, which I use for parking and tolls. Occasionally I will put dimes and nickels in it, but I will never put pennies in there because they are useless. Parking meters don’t take pennies, and toll takers don’t much like pennies. Who can blame them?

Recently, I moved temporarily into Northern Virginia, land of tolls, so I have had to become pretty aware of the change I keep in my car. All I can say is that I cannot account for these pennies. Just as, some years back, I could not account for a thick neck scarf that had found its way into the sleeve of my winter coat—which had been hanging on the back of a chair in my living room—and that did not belong to me or to anyone I knew.

What interests me most is how quickly my mind will run towards the paranormal if it cannot easily find a rational answer to a puzzling event. It is the same part of me, I think, that is drawn to mysticism. And God.

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It’s snowing and I’m thinking.

Noreaster-snow-storm-

Last night I received an email from a friend who told me she had just finished reading Jenny Offill’s 2014 novel Dept. of Speculation. “Somehow, it reminds me of you,” she wrote. There is such mystery embedded in these six words that I searched for it at once on Amazon.

Happily, I was able to “Look Inside!↓” and read a few selected pages of the book. Though I couldn’t determine from these pages what in them might have reminded her of me, I did come upon a passage that made me think of something I wrote in 2012 on painter Lucian Freud. More a piece about what one needs innerly to live an artist’s life than it is about Freud himself, though, “An Ode to Selfishness” gave me an opportunity to reflect briefly on qualities that seem to make the difference between those who sustain the life of an artist — in the very broadest sense of the word — and those who do not.

Freud was a prodigious talent; he was also a prodigious philanderer who was rumored to have fathered as many as 40 children. A man who has a predilection for spilling his seed across continents is of interest anthropologically, yes, but what was most fascinating to me about him was, as I wrote, “his single-minded devotion to his art and…his devil-may-care attitude over what others thought of him….”

As I have gotten older, I have become much less preoccupied with what others might think about me, but I don’t imagine I will ever fully abandon my need for another’s good opinion. This craving, I have come to think, stands in the way of what it takes, in my case, to be a writer worth her salt.

In her novel, Offill has her narrator reflect more deeply on this idea and on how it is related to gender. “My plan was to never get married,” she says. “I was going to be an art monster instead. Women almost never become art monsters because art monsters only concern themselves with art, never mundane things. Nabokov didn’t even fold his own umbrella. Vera licked his stamps for him.”

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baby’s bones daddy’s dust

holy-road1

Try to hide sorrow in a dry poem

and all you’ll get is a line arrow

of razzle-dazzle pique

pointing down, down deep,

towards a brown road in

a flat state where the sky there

hangs half dull half billow

and no one gets up before noon

or goes out before the moon

rises over a straw-colored cat

stretched sleepless across

the lid of a metal can half filled

with balled-up paper and gristle scraps.

Baby tried not to cry,

her eyes still bulgy from a ten-day

binge on gin and tears

and sex with an uptown pimp

we’ll call Joe, who promised

a generous wad

of cash each week, a sapphire

ring, a Chevy Impala, a trip

to Acapulco, and back,

plus a condo with deck just outside Coral Gables

in exchange for a lie-down wherever and whenever he said

so. Seemed a better option, by miles,

than a tenement on the lower east side.

While her daddy diddled every big-breasted, boy-hipped secretary he

could get his hands on but married himself off to a little, brittle

chickadee from across the pond, who herself

had a taste for gin and also for Vegas craps

and kidney-shaped pools but not for the small dark girl

who followed her everywhere, nut-scampering and twitchy,

and dogged the silky retriever pup that ate soft sweaters,

then piddled in circles beneath the stairs.

Under a scorching sun they came from far flung

for daddy’s burning, the jackass penguins and their lah-de-dah crows,

but baby’s bones just got tumbled in,

with only a parched girl in black jeans, a lunatic aunt, and a few sparrows looking on.

Someone touches daddy’s coffin and sobs.

I throw a few rose petals into baby’s open grave.

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On devolution

god_jack sanders_photo by Marilyn SandersToday I caught the last moments of a Terry Gross interview on NPR. In it, she was speaking with Jack Miles, general editor of The Norton Anthology Of World Religions and professor of English and religious studies at the University of California, Irvine. He is also the author of God: A Biography, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1996. What I heard was of great interest, but most interesting of all was a seeming throwaway line I might have missed had I not gone back to read an online transcript of the discussion and reflect on what had been said.

“I have no confidence that the world [awaiting] us — given global warming, given the threat to the human habitat — is a world of ever-increasing knowledge…,” says Miles. “We may be at a peak now from which we will decline. Who knows?”

I think I can honestly say it never occurred to me that human beings would stop evolving; in fact, I have often taken comfort in the belief that we could grow out of our smallnesses and stupidities to become the enlightened band of sisters and brothers we were meant to be. But one glance at the day’s headlines, and I have to wonder if we are, in fact, on a slow, steady slide downward.

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Three years!

Tomorrow it will be three years since I wrote my first blog post. To celebrate, and as a way of offering you my gratitude for reading and supporting my work, I thought I’d unearth and reprint “The hay who wore a toupée,” one of the pieces I wrote in January 2012:

“When I was a child, I think I thought that words were more reliable than grown-ups but not as important as horses. Grown-ups were always gone or leaving, but words were right where you left them. Horses were passion, though, and nothing trumps passion. Just as I can’t remember a time when I was read to I can’t remember a time when I did not read. Any words would do so long as they were companion enough. I especially loved stories of young girls with a heap of derring-do. My favorite was Ginny Gordon and the Lending Library, and I smile now to think of the reason. At such a young age I couldn’t possibly have understood why a mystery novel about a grown-up who keeps trying to steal a book would have taken me so completely. Probably as soon as I mastered cursive I wrote my first poem. This is how it went: On a bright sunny day/he galloped away/his mouth full of hay/wearing a toupée.”

2015 — and you

Netherlands New YearEarlier, I sat down to write a poem for you about the new year, but an hour or so into the process I realized it wasn’t going to be very good. It felt stiff, contrived, and I knew I should scrap it. I’ve never been able to create on command, and I’m always surprised by where the mysterious act of creation takes me — whether I’m writing a poem from thin air or drawing an actual tree in front of me.

From the time I was very small, people have had all kinds of advice about what and how I should write. “Write about what you know,” some have said. “Write about what you don’t know,” a few others have suggested. Upon reading a novel I wrote years back, my brother asked, “Can’t you be a little more cheerful?”

Well, no, I can’t cajole myself into being upbeat. Whatever emerges almost always appears to have its own heart and mind, while I just seem to get taken along for the ride. But, if I could will myself to write something meaningful for you about 2015, it might have some of these sentiments in it: evolve; love yourself and others; live authentically and simply; be kind (or at least stop being unkind, as a friend of mine says); be honest; surround yourself with people who genuinely care about you. Leave suffering and unrequited longing behind you, if you can.

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Discernment

Sign

A golden eagle glides

down a mountainside & midair

drops the oily serpent

she has been holding in her talons.

This is God telling us to worship the unseen.

A young man with black eyes removes his two shoes,

throws them into the street,

& gets down on his knees.

This is God saying that our fear will be our death.

A husband beats his bride because

she will not sleep in their bed.

This is God telling us our dark thoughts

will create a dark world for our children.

A moth beats its wings against a backdoor screen

& plummets to the pavement, exhausted:

There is no way in or out.

This is not God speaking.

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