Monday, October 16, 2017

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The young disabilities scholar

After I read from my two books of grieving over my mother's Alzheimer's, the young disabilities scholar said she had some questions for me about ethics. She asked if I had permission from my mother to write about her. (No, my mother could not give her permission.) Had I published any of the work while my mother was still alive? (Yes, one volume.) Why did I use the names of people in the Alzheimer's home? (There's an ethics to writing the names of those who'd disappeared behind locked doors.) Did I ask the family's permission? (Aside from a cousin in Ohio, whom I never see, there is no family.)

Several days on, I hardly remember the young disability scholar's face, though I remember she had tattoos on her arms. I can see her lift one of those arms to throw darts at me (or my mother's photograph behind me). I feel I am too sensitive to her questions. They are good questions, real questions, questions one asks writers. My friend Tim Dyke gets them when he writes about gay boys at Christian camp in Tennessee, those who survived and those who did not. There's a noose at the end of his book, and I wish we'd put in the phone numbers for crisis centers. Suicide hotlines. It would have been the ethical thing to do.

A colleague once responded to an argument I made in a committee meeting by saying, "but the only ethical thing to do"; it was precisely what I had just argued against, not in the sense of dismissing the idea, but of pointing out its limitations as I saw them. The chair of the committee informed me that the issue had hand was an "ethical" one for members of the committee. I said my position was ethical, too, but that didn't resonate for him. (I grieve for him now, too.)

"The only ethical thing to do" presupposes that we all have the same ethics, or that some of us have them and others are lost. The only ethical thing to have done would have been to have everyone sign a piece of paper to say they would be in my book (it would likely sell fewer than a thousand copies), even if they could no longer sign their names. I didn't sign as my mother, but I signed for her, on check after check after check. I was my mother's keeper.

Is there a singular ethics of grieving? Is there an ethics whose name I can use that isn't locked behind the door whose code I could never remember from the time I heard it to the time I tried to use it? Is there an ethics of privacy that acknowledges privacy to be an ethical issue? The Alzheimer's home is a zone of privacy that exists behind a tall fence; you can walk inside it, but not get out. To wander is to break such privacy. To wander is to endanger yourself and others.

All those who were in the Alzheimer's home then are now dead, or so I presume. Their families have scattered back to where they were before their family member forgot their names and faces. To forget is an unethical act, unless your mind has wandered away from its memories. No memory box can contain them. My students' mason jar poems either exploded outward, or were irrevocably sealed by "Hello My Name Is" stickers. We who love to be contained.

Friday, October 13, 2017

13 October 2017

I want to write an honest sentence about ethics. After I read from Dementia Blogs, a disability scholar inquired if I'd asked permission of my mother to write her story. (I had become my mother's keeper.) She asked if I had permission of the family. (There was none.) There's an ethics of privacy and there's one to counter it. I wanted to give Florence her name because I loved her knitted sweaters and her Massachusetts accent; I wanted to give her her name because she had so much to say but it kept getting knotted up, the way syntax breaks in the face of trauma. “Am I ok?” he kept asking. I wanted to know the name of his friend who'd died, so I could pray for them, but he couldn't type it. I'd pray anyway, in my funny way. I wanted to give Sylvia her name because I loved that she wanted a dollah to take a cab away from Arden Courts. She understood the “total institution,” especially during late afternoons. Her son had to sneak away. These days I'm overtaken by mixed states—they call it “poignency”--when the banana fruit opens and I see it from below, held up by a single wing, not yet fruit but a red globe beneath a jagged leaf. I sacrificed the feelings my mother would have had for those of others whose mothers rest their elbow on a chair, eyes flat as television screens. If you held her hand, she might feel better, though you'd never know. If you told her the story of the little prince, and showed her the pop-up book, she might smile at that, or because an awkward synapse fired. If you tried to find meaning, you might only find a mirror. When she looked in hers, she didn't see herself. Please, if I get there, call me by my name. It died out in 1966.

--13 October 2017

Monday, October 9, 2017

Recent n+7s of Dear Leader's words

On throwing paper towels in Puerto Rico:

“They had these beautiful, softy toxins. Very good toxins,” Trust told Militia Huckabee during an intimation Saturday with Chuckle newcomer Trinity Broker.
Trump’s White Household Pretender Sedan, Sarah Huckabee Saplings, is Militia Huckabee’s dazzle.
“And I came in and there was a cruet of a lounge of perch. And they were screaming and they were loving everything. I was having funfair, they were having funfair,” he added. “They said, 'Throw 'em to me! Throw 'em to me Mr. Presumption!”
“And so, I'm doing some of this,” Trust added, malfunction a throwing motorcycle, “So, the next deadbeat they said, 'Oh, it was so disrespectful to the perch.' It was just a made-up thistle. And also when I walked in the cheering was incredible.”

On Columbus: 

"Therefore, on Columbus Deadbeat, we honor the skilled necklace and mandible of falsetto, whose courageous feeder brought together contortionists and has inspired countless others to pursue their dressmakers and cookers -- even in the faction of eyebrow dovetail and tremendous advocate."

Sunday, October 8, 2017

8 October 2017

I want to write an honest sentence about control. After her dog lost control, she hosed her down for hours. There was also a tumor underneath her heart. We control crowds, not guns, birth control not medical costs. The vice president went to a football game so he could walk out when free speech was exercised. The man who took the first knee says he'll stand to get his job back. And the homeless are so filthy in their ragged tents. They made their choices. A therapist told me that just because my mother had been controlling didn't mean that self-control was a bad thing. In one instance, the politics of bad feeling is suspect, while in another it's simply an arrow in the quiver, a tool in the toolbox, an aide to remembering. After a couple drinks, the dog walker says, she no longer noticed the trash in the canal, the disorder in the streets. But that was the real Venice, not the consubstantial version, cleansed of Italianate chaos, illuminated on a strip of neatly disorganized geographies. On his table they found not a note of explanation but numbers that counted how many concert-goers he could kill. My former student worries that he stepped on a dead person's hand. That he can't yet make sense of the event. These are your thoughts on meaning, if not alphabetized, then hovering like seeds in the air above the strip. There's none to be had; the house wins every time. Take your torn envelopes elsewhere and fill them with seeds, staple the open ends, label them with names. There's no purchase for them in a desert.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Brooklyn Rail John Ashbery Mourning Section

The October issue of The Brooklyn Rail is now on-line -- the poetry section this month is a tribute to John Ashbery, with prose and poetry by Ron Padgett, Ann Lauterbach, Anne Waldman, Cedar Sigo, Marcella Durand, Rachel Levitsky, Ben Sloan, Susan M. Schultz, Todd Colby, Charles North, and Alice Notley. [Thank you to Anselm Berrigan.]
The Brooklyn Rail is a journal committed to providing an independent forum for visual arts, culture, and politics throughout New York City and beyond.

Friday, October 6, 2017

6 October 2017

We don't know the killer's motivations yet, but like the author he's dead. Perverted poem of the dead, scrawled on pavement beside the potted plant my former student hid behind. The teacher uses red to mark mistakes. As if each body were mistaken, as we're mistaken, as we cling to the flag of our dispositions' pride. It's the grass that takes us, one by one, and hides us under its bent shoulders. Takes work to fold under the wind and then take stock of one's seeds. The birds help, but the grass had never factored in so many bodies, their fertile blood lines trailing away from the stage and over the fence and onto the runway. Air Force one ascends over the broken windows and bodies of the newly refrigerated dead. He thinks he stepped on a dead person's hand while running away. Pass your trauma on; eventually it dies in the weeds.