Maine, very early spring

Men of the Super 8 at 6:30 AM
Their rough work clothes
They stagger together as if they’re in a barn
Glancing over politely, as Maine men do.
Only one is assertive–late 30’s, dark, beginning a beer gut.
I am not interactional before caffeine,
I regret to say.
Thinking of the long drives to Western Maine last winter
Another before me–the barrenness
Although all around the plants and animals are full of new life
Fox kits, caterpillars, the song of the titmouse
The trick of life is to find a heaven here
Such as a hidden surge of spring
Surrounding men and women going to work.

Winter, Spring

by Jim Harrison

Winter is black and beige down here
from drought. Suddenly in March
there’s a good rain and in a coup1e
of weeks we are enveloped in green.
Green everywhere in the mesquites, oaks,
cottonwoods, the bowers of thick
willow bushes the warblers love
for reasons of food or the branches,
the tiny aphids they cat with relish.

Each year it is a surprise
that the world can turn green again.
It is the grandest surprise in life,
the birds coming back from the south to my open
arms, which they fly past, aiming at the feeders

Saturday, art, media, silence

I have been culture observing…not really having plans this weekend, so I looked at a very interesting exhibit yesterday  at Carnegie Museum of Art—that of a woman named Iris Van Herpen  who designs “couture” that aligns the body with technology and the environment.  It’s hard to explain—involves couture that expresses this relationship– with the natural  world, with electricity, with new technology such as 3D printed objects.

I like to look hard at things, so I’ll go back to look at it again.  When I lived in Maine, I was always struck by the decline of our apprehension of nature. This artwork made me think of how the body–which seems increasingly a commodity, like everything else–also is usually depicted as utterly divorced from nature.

It’s an entirely different world from that of my mother (born 1910)  where she and her sisters slept three to a bed, got chilblains and saw classmates die from the flu or other infectious diseases. Where there was no entertainment except playing outside on city streets filled with industrial smoke or on the steep wooded hillside that I also explored as a girl.

From the Von Herpen exhibit I accidentally visited the “interactional” gallery and got curmudgeonly; I love to look at art and never read instructional cards or listen to tapes unless I decide they are necessary. I am not that interested in mediation of experience, which now seems a cultural norm.

Alas, the exhibit involved people coming up to remind you to engage in the activities they had designed for you. I left immediately. At my age I regularly disobey rules, at least in the artistic life. In fact I muttered a bit and noticed the security guard glancing at me.

“Swell,” I thought,  “Now I’m going to get arrested at a museum for being conformist.”

The same multimedia approach was evident in the native American exhibit I fled to—of the Inuit. I know this bows to cultural (or should I say “customer”) realities, but as I was looking at these tiny, exquisite Inuit carvings—of birds, seals, etc., it was hard to concentrate because of the loud videos.

It’s  ironic that these objects were created in stillness. Recently I saw similar carvings,  in Florida of all places, and accompanying them was an Inuit poem about silence, which I think  is food for thought. Excessive and constant noise–lack of silence–is one of the spiritual ills afflicting our culture of distraction.

These media extravaganzas remind me of something I read in the new travel memoir by Andrew Solomon, Far and Away—of the tremendous creativity evidenced by artists in other cultures he has visited. These we in the US often think of as impoverished or repressive,  but artistic fearlessness can emerge precisely because of deprivation, invisibility, silencing.  This realization is wondrous to me, because Solomon was writing about Soviet artists (and others) of whom I had never heard, who create remarkable work.

How Noisy They Seem

By Alootook Ipellie

I saw a picture today, in the pages of a book.
It spoke of many memories of when I was still a child:
Snow covered the ground,
And the rocky hills were cold and gray with frost.
The sun was shining from the west,
And the shadows were dark against the whiteness of the
hardened snow.My body felt a chill
Looking at two Inuit boys playing with their sleigh,
For the fur of their hoods was frosted under their chins,
From their breathing.
In the distance, I could see at least three dog teams going away,
But I didn’t know where they were going,
For it was only a photo.
I thought to myself that they were probably going hunting,
To where they would surely find some seals basking on the ice.
Seeing these things made me feel good inside,
And I was happy that I could still see the hidden beauty of the
And know the feeling of silence.


Travel, Surprise, Forgiveness

Yesterday I reviewed my passport application, regretted some of the past, looked forward to the future.
My last passport was issued in 1982. My father was taking me to Ireland on one of those awful package tours where Irish Americans travel in clumps to see Jury’s Cabaret (if that still exists—it was full of heavily made-up colleens singing “Danny Boy” in a faux Irish castle) and to kiss the Blarney Stone.
The whole thing was awful. Most of the people on the tour were from a huge family from West Warwick; they wore Kelly green at all times. The young people my age were mean spirited. They cared little about Ireland; much of the trip revolved around shopping.
My father was a very damaged man who irritated the others by his loud fake Irish BS. He embarrassed me many times. My father was dishonest—he needed to cover his own failures. On the trip he lied in front of me consistently, bragging about his happy marriage and saying that my two old brothers were prospering. (Both of my brothers had experienced serious mental illness and were in and out of the state hospital.)
This was the early 80s. I had been out of the house for a number of years and was in a PhD program. That was located about 50 miles up Rt. 95 from Rhode Island, where I grew up, and I had come lived in a different world from the blue collar, narrow RI universe.
I was miserable. At the end of the trip I pointed out how much my father lied.
He responded by saying, “If you talk back to me one more time, I’ll slap your face.” I was 27 or 28.
That was pretty much the end of things with him.
The strange thing is about travel is that it can be both internal and external. Over the years I have come to understand Daddy much better and I now feel a deep compassion for him. My brother Terry had committed suicide a few years before the Ireland trip. It’s a cliché, but my father was broken.
With the trip, I now see, Daddy, in his coarse and inarticulate way, was trying to form a connection with me. He had been distant and emotionally brutal when I was growing up and now he was trying to make up for it.
It was too late—too late for a lot of things. He had also asked my mother to go to Ireland with him, but she refused. They were a bad match and the marriage had broken down years before. I think he was courageous, trying that.
He could not help but be himself on the trip—insincere, covering up failure after failure–which he knew.
Forgiveness can take a long time. I’ve never been a big fan of people lecturing about the subject. I see it as coming through a process of erosion of one’s hard heart, releasing the stone you carry.
This has come as a relief to me. I’m reading Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run autobiography and there is a great deal of forgiveness in it. Bruce grew up in a world much like mine–very harsh, but structured and full of beauty. It was also a world that valued history and memory.
To travel also takes courage, but it can remake the world. I think there is a great deal of conformity in American society. We want to be comfortable and every social group has its mores. At my age, there are still many constraints about how you’re supposed to be, including how to travel. The focus is on being a tourist, not leaving safety, not leaving the American.
I’ve been reading Andrew Solomon’s Far and Away about travel. Like Bruce’s book, it’s very good, perhaps because they are writers who grew up on the margins; when you’re on the margins, you see better.
I read the introduction to Far and Away and was stunned at my blinders, since I have not left the country in so long and lived a truncated life in a small Maine town for 25 years. (Although there are aspects of Maine life that are adventurous, especially the emphasis on the simple, nonconsumerist life).
Solomon points out that austerity can richly develop the life of the imagination; which is abundantly apparent in his chapters in, for example, contemporary Russian artists and folk healing of depression in Zambia (this is not a book that explores the usual tropes). I wouldn’t be disengenous about this, but I think there is often a deep loneliness and spiritual hollowness in our society that can detracts from the creative life.
I rescued myself from my Maine town and have been surprised by many things since moving away. When I read Solomon, I was stunned and overjoyed at the prospect of the new ahead of me. I want more of that—wonder, having my perceptions upended and perhaps coming back to some of the daily surprise that I had as a child.


Getting my passport this week—today I had first passport photo taken in 35 years.
Lipstick crooked, 35 years older—the guy I went to Nicaragua with/for is now almost 80.
But my eyes are still good, maybe even brighter then they once were, and I look forward to the future with joy.