What I Want: from Richard Gere to urban wolves

I want to lie, lazy and nearly naked, in the languid embrace of a sleeping lion with a scratchy mane, sweaty flanks, and the rank smell of wildness.

I want to regain for a moment the moment when I was 21 and walked into the sea wearing a black bikini of two 5″ bands across my white body and every head turned to watch.

I want the Israeli government and the Hamas and Fatah governments put on a boat and dumped on a small sandy island with only flowered shirts and baggy shorts to wear and packets of freeze dried hummus and bitter lemons dropped on them at random intervals. You might call it a blockade.

I want my ex-husband who is with a woman twenty years younger to know I’ve had the best sex of my life in the six years since I found out about her and left him.

I want Richard Gere to move in, wear white linen shirts, bake bread, and come up to me every day with a wine bottle in one hand, a glass in the other, and say, “Baby, I miss you.”

I want to swim again with the sea lion that whirled and twirled in front of me and looked into my eyes, stopping only to chase off two small sharks beneath us before returning to me to whirl and twirl again.

I want every poet, musician, artist, father, mother, farmer, and dreamer killed by war and violence – and all of their offspring who never were – to be returned to us.

I want addicts loved, the homeless sheltered, all sexes embraced, all ethnicities valued, and all children to be fed.

I want fewer liars and deceivers.

I want my dog to love me as much as he loves the people who take care of him when I am away even though I don’t walk him as much as they do or take him on paths where he sees deer.

I want the polar bears to survive, and wolves to proliferate so much that they enter urban centers, still with a glint in their eyes but politely moving to the side on sidewalks as they sniff out the nearest park with good water, or a coffee shop if they prefer.

I want to lie on my belly on new grass, my toes wiggling in a divot of mud, and hear the earth whisper that she will tend us the best she can even though we have not tended her.

I want the courage to hear the music that must exist across the cosmos of pain, grief, loss, desire, longing and even more of joy, brilliance, ecstasy, and light. I want it to permeate me but not vaporize me so I can return and try to tell others.

I want to accept. I want no child to lose his or her parents. I want love to prevail more often, more quickly, more evenly, and more obviously.

I want to hear every birdsong as though for the first time.

I want Richard Gere to move in, bake bread, and come up to me every day and say, “Baby, I miss you.”


Being Enfolded: Separate Lives & Secret Languages

So much of wanting not to be alone is specifically about having someone enfold you in their arms, of being able to regress to being a baby, safe, cradled. I don’t believe this requires actually having history of being held. I believe it is universal even as so few people recognize it as one of their needs. Especially males find this difficult. Bless those that don’t.

My earliest memory was of not being held, and was of crying, and of being a baby so young I could not yet turn over. Don’t tell me this couldn’t be true. I was there.

I was familiar with the sound of crying and of the scrunched up face of my 2-year-old brother wet with tears when the crying sound happened. Babies imprint instantly.

Only this time the blond blue-eyed being looking down at me over the small enclosed bed looked different. There was no scrunch, there were no tears – yet the sound continued, followed by a peculiar sensation that I later knew to be wetness on my cheeks.

If the blond blue-eyed being wasn’t scrunched, could the sound be coming from somewhere else, somewhere closer? I felt the puzzle as surely as I can look out the window at this moment and see that the rain that has been threatening all day may finally be coming in.

At the moment, I realized I existed and I was separate.

My next memory is from when I was 3 ½ years. I invented a secret language, a language for separateness. My own language, not one to share with the blond blue-eyed brother or either parent. Children learn quickly who is safe.

So I looked for someone safe to share my language. Hannah at the butcher shop met my criterion. There was something different, soft, giving about her.

“Do you know what I am saying?” I then said a sentence in my new language.

She leaned over the counter and cocked her head.

“Do you know what I am saying?” I repeated the sentence.


“Do you know what I am saying?” I repeated again, a little annoyed. It was a simple code and it seemed to me that any adult who really tried or cared would understand it.

“No,” she said.

My mother grabbed me by the hand, yanked me out of the shop and pulled me up the narrow cracked sidewalk. I felt another new sensation, like ants running down her arm into mine.

“Don’t you know Hannah is deaf?”

“What is deaf?”

“She can’t hear. She can only tell what you are saying by looking at your lips.”

I may have been stunned, but I knew I was not actually guilty. You can only be guilty if you did something you knew was wrong. I deflected the ants as best I could, and had my first lesson – that I remember – in disabilities and in the nature of justice.

Since then, in one way or another, I have been trying to communicate, not knowing if what I try to communicate is individual or universal.

I asked my parents about this memory when I was in my mid-20’s. Had I imagined it all? They said she moved away when I was three, and went to another small town where she stepped in front of a train. The theory is that she didn’t hear it.

I suspect she had no one to enfold her.

. . . .

And so we scream at the skies, as though they are responsible for the state of the world, for the monsters that harm others, for the blindness and denials and superiority, and idiocy, and murderous intents, and savage actions. I use the word “sky” here as a placeholder for your favorite god or goddess.

At bottom, it is that god or goddess that we want to enfold us, to take us back home, wipe our tears, stroke our back, perhaps make love to us. We want to go back home, this world can make us weary.

But we cannot, can we? Not yet. Maybe some day.

So I looked at the blond blue-eyed boy, who has himself now gone back home and I pray it enfolds him dearly, and knew he and I were separate. Existential realization in the first months of your life can be a heady thing.

So I looked at him and learned with time to fall in love and to listen, and that when you do not feel heard, you can still listen. That when you are not enfolded, you can still enfold at least in your heart and mind. That when someone does not understand you, it may not be their fault that they are deaf.

But you can, as I did, put your little toes on the ½ protrusion of the baseboard and your little fingers over the edge of the butcher’s block with its smear of blood, pull yourself up, and say again your personal message in your secret language.

It is what we can do. It is what we must do. Some people will hear. Some people do hear, they do, they really do. It is a kind of enfolding.


Rachmaninoff and Me

I haven’t written because I have too much to say, but question the validity of saying any of it. Recently on Facebook I have been adding “friends” who are poets and authors, and I don’t know who they are – well, some names are slightly familiar – and they all have books, and write beautifully, which adds to my writer’s block; but I just came from seeing the play “Preludes” at Lincoln Center about the composer’s block of Sergei Rachmaninoff after a disastrous – and I do mean disastrous – debut of a new symphony. The conductor was drunk and the orchestra not prepared, and Sergei got skewered by the critics. If seeing that play doesn’t unblock my backlog, I think nothing could except drunkenness, which isn’t my style. It didn’t work for the conductor, it wouldn’t work for me.

Afterwards I sat under the trees in front of the theater in this blessed balmy air that is the same temperature as your skin surface, which is, of course, heaven, and the guy who played Rachmaninoff walked by. He was talking to an obvious friend who left and then as he walked back, I said “Thank you,” and he came over and I told him about the Rachmaninoff wars between my 7-year-old grandson who adores Rachmaninoff, though at first he thought it was Mozart he adores but it is Rachmaninoff, and my 5-year-old granddaughter who thinks music isn’t music unless it has words and a singable melody, while Ben doesn’t like music with words. He is gifted in math so it makes sense. Rachmaninoff was mathematical also.

So the writer’s block has been both about that I cannot keep up with the magnificent writers who are suddenly all over my FB thread even though they don’t know me, but probably did a quick check, saw I looked harmless, and were willing to accept me as a “friend.” And it is also because I have lost my sense of having a profile, any i.d. Nothing makes sense anymore regarding who I am. And if you don’t know who you are, your literary impulses, which depends on what you think and feel, can get pretty confused.

Wendell Berry – one of my new literati friends posted this magnificent poem by him – described this well. Well, my dislocation takes it a bit further than he does, but he really described not knowing. See?

It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work
and when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

Now, it seems the impeded stream may not be singing – more like gurgling eddies – but he sums up the bafflement and makes it all good somehow, as having the purpose of no purpose might actually get you somewhere.

I haven’t been fighting losing my identify. I invited it and have yielded to it even as I now question it. Several years ago I decided to strip myself of definition and it has been working. I mean, people think I am serenity, except for my closest friends who still think I am serenity and rely upon my being serenity for their own serenity even when some get occasional glimpses of churning waters underneath.

Joan Didion wrote that as she got older she couldn’t write as she once did, words eager to rush onto the page, internal rhythms known even before the words arrived. Now she just tries to use the right words, the accurate ones, the authentic ones. Each word done with such care. I tell myself to do the same but I am not Joan Didion, and to include a reference to myself in a paragraph about her is narcissistic blasphemy, but . . . yikes.

Plus, there is a residue inside me that is rococo. I would love to be able to use words like verisimilitude, laconic, obfuscation, lexicography, and lassitude as nimbly as I use words like harvest, fever, raspy, and earth.

It is imperative to use the right words, but it is work. It is a meditation, it is knowing what is. And knowing what is is, generally, beyond words. See the problem?

Other problems include that I’m just plain lonely in this transition to non-description. This is, by the way, an essential struggle of most elderly. Have you any idea how many people who were my friends or acquaintances a couple months ago are no longer here?

My second ex-husband sent the word out, through a convoluted route that found me across the U.S. and after 35 years, that he has dementia and Parkinson’s Disease. It wasn’t his lungs, after all, that got him. It was Lewy’s body disease, the second most common form of dementia, the top of the list of all those kinds of dementia that are not Alzheimer’s. Do you think I’m losing use of my vocabulary not because of seeking rockbottom truth but because words are disappearing? I am afraid of that. In any case, no-frill words tend to be truer. Something may be “transcending” but it is more accurately “rising, delicate and vaporous.”

Rachmaninoff really suffered. Brilliance hiding is not a pleasant thing, especially when you need to bring in rent money. Brilliance molding? What is a sorry state for others is a horror for a genius. I am not a genius. My suffering has been real but it is not a case of having a gift that could blow the minds of others into the stratosphere and that the world will forever ache over from its loss. Mine is more closely aligned to the loneliness felt in the gap of not hearing one’s self express one’s own understandings, of not taking something to the next level, of stupefied energy.

This is not outwardly visible. I look pretty good, and my health is good. I had it checked out of fear that the gloom eyeing me along the edges of my campfire was partially physical. My health is fine, my loneliness isn’t really.

Did I tell you my past is littered with bad husbands? Men who failed me on the simplest of terms. Fidelity, safety, things like that. It is a cluttered landscape behind me. Debris beside the road, but it is okay. I am blessed, and I saw this play today “Preludes” on the composer’s block of Rachmaninoff. He was 28, I’m 72. He got over it. I will too . . . or not.

It is not important to be able to use words such as pulchritude, dipsomaniac, vermiculite, or phrases such as “it hit him the way formaldehyde hits a lizard, “ or “she circumambulated the offering, an oracle tied to the thread of a vision” No, it is enough to be able to say, “She loves with her entire body. She loves so much she does not know her body from her mind. She loves more than fits conventional wisdom. She loves beyond calling. She loves with the clarity of a baby’s drool. She loves. She loves mindlessly. She loves so much she trusts losing herself even though she has no choice in the matter.”

Rachmaninoff went on to write his “Prelude in C# Minor.” I wrote this.


The Barrel Roll Was the First Clue

Corporal Eric Casebolt of the Metropolitan Police Department of McKinney, Texas practiced for this moment. How many times must he have done that barrel roll wishing someone could see him, see how fast and agile he is?

And, by gum, if, after the roll, the fight wasn’t going to come to him, he’d go after it. He’d make it happen. He would turn a 14 year old girl into the enemy, throw her face down, knee her in the small of her back, and pull his gun on teenager boys who wanted to help her.

Now maybe that girl had said to him, “Stop it” or “You’re a racist cop.” But if she did, he wasn’t able to parse out this truth from the affront he felt to his personal sense of law and order, which includes African-American youth on the ground, immobile, some handcuffed, and one in a bikini face down with his knee in her back. Do you think she weighed 100 lbs? A little more, a little less?

He probably didn’t hear her call for her mother, either. It would have disturbed his belief she meant to do him bodily harm.

Cpl. Casebolt, the video seems to show, fits the profile of someone who bullies because as a child he was bullied or was afraid of being bullied. The macho strut became a habit, the obscenities the rule, the tough guy persona his self-image.

There were other policemen. We saw one stand with the youth and quietly tell them “Do not run.” He said it as a mature adult providing life advice for their good. The teenagers themselves said there were policemen who were helpful, and two rushed in when Cpl. Casebolt drew his gun. What would have happened if they hadn’t?

Those policemen are the policemen we rely on. I would like to know these policemen.

We also rely on videos – those recording eyes that bring the fight to all of us. Cpl. Casebolt may not have thought he was being videoed when he showed off his barrel roll. At that moment, it may be been just fun and games for him, but more people than he may have wished got to see him in action – and it was not fun and games.

Perhaps Cpl. Casebolt believed doing the tough cop thing was necessary against African-American youth when some of them were loud at a birthday pool party, when some of them didn’t live in the neighborhood, when a couple of them had a run in with a white woman who had yelled racist remarks at them.

Perhaps he believed he would teach them respect – or at least fear – by throwing them on the ground and drawing his gun. Surely he felt he was doing this for all policemen maligned for shooting African-Americans. Surely he felt he had their back and their backing. I want to think he was wrong about that.

I believe what he did puts other policemen – rational policemen – in a difficult and uncomfortable position. You can bet there are interesting conversations in the homes of the policemen who were with Cpl. Casebolt: Should I have intervened earlier? Done more? Why did I wait? Oh, right, it took me awhile to realize Casebolt had gone berserk, and I thought we could talk about it later but then, oh, man, he drew his gun.

In some ways I feel more for the good policemen than I do for the youth. I can’t help but think that the African-American youth had a civics lesson that has not ended – one in which people of all races rallied for them.

They will each need to come to terms with what happened to them and each other at the time and as the video went viral and as people reacted, and as justice is or is not served.

What do they plan to do about it? How does this change their plans for their future work? Let’s hope that resolve enters their bones to make of themselves people who work for justice and who make our world better in whatever way is best suited to them.

When the rest of us as youth, or adults, have had a party interrupted by police because we were too loud, it followed a pattern. The police arrived, possibly rang the doorbell. We answered and the policemen said, “Hey the neighbors are complaining. Keep it down, okay? If I have to come back, I will have to take someone in.”

That’s not a civics lesson, that is privilege, and it is easily forgotten. These young people will not forget. What they do with it is up to them, and they will decide that partially on what the rest of us do about policemen who have their senses of right and wrong skewed. Perhaps Corporal Casebolt did too many barrel rolls. That’s not a legitimate defense.