Friday, June 3, 2011

Mom report / Susan Howe's _That This_ / Albert Saijo's passing

[Today's weather]

Morning call from Arden Courts: mom has pneumonia. They've done chest x-rays. She's very weak, "weaker than before." [I'm having a hard time understanding the woman's accent on the other end of the phone, so I ask her to repeat herself.] She requests permission to call hospice. Yes, she would still be in the same place, but might have a hospital bed. If she gets better, they'll leave. I say yes, of course, thanks for calling. Yes.

When I look up "hospice" I get the word "palliative." palliative care (from Latin palliare, to cloak): care that makes patients more comfortable, lessens their suffering. Cloak. Loose over-garment. Cloak and dagger. Superman. To cloak. Conceal, cover over, hide. You cannot cover over pain, though perhaps you can ease it.

Her death has been in my mind for days now. Bryant says we had 2.5 inches of rain this morning between 5 and 8 a.m. Rolling thunder, rain at times shearing toward the mountains, plants fallen down on the lanai. When I heard that Mark's mother was in ICU and then died, I worried that my mother does not die. I cannot say that worry is easing, or that it's cloaked.

Say that her death is on or in my mind. What is death's shape, its smell, what rent does it pay, or is there a mortgage, as it comes to own us over time? Death is a resident; she lies on a bed and it is to her that the cat comes. Cats know, you know. To reside is not to abide, though it suggests a coming again (re-) to the activity of being. Do not resuscitate. Do not force feed. Do not extend

We own death (it is ours) for a time. We own it as concept, not as fact. It is her death that is on my mind, though my death is there, too. Hers and mine are relatives, but not the same. She gave birth to mine, as I have adopted those of my children. It is still her possession, even if she cannot understand it. But possession also has an end. Not a possession to be bought or sold, but relinquished. Into time, which is not one. I can say "her time has come," but that is a double abstraction. She has her death, but not her time.

Radhika lies on the floor, reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid. She is singing or chanting, I cannot tell which, though I do distinguish the rain, water in the drain, thunder; I saw egrets on the lawn, white against dark green beneath gray. A day without horizon, thick. Kamehameha Highway is closed at Waikane. Bryant whistles: "waterfalls everywhere!" Every mountain fold water full.

That This. That is over there, this is over here. That happened; this is happening. Short vowels tucked into short words. They point. Which syllable is stronger, that one or this one? Is it that this? or that this? A line of egrets moves from this to that.

If I were writing the review of Susan Howe's book, as I'd planned, it would involve her invocation of "ancestors," those who "opened" Japan and traded with China. Or her sentence about Pearl Harbor and Hans Andersen. Her desire to be inside history, the discovery in her grieving for her husband, Peter Hare, that she is relentlessly between things. Temporal tectonics.

"Somewhere I read that relations between sounds and objects, feelings and thoughts, develop by association; language attaches to and envelopes its referent without destroying or changing it--the way a cobweb catches a fly" (13).

Language as cloak, what comes between the spider and her prey. Language as palliative, as nurse, as easing pain before an end.

"More and more I have the sense of being present at a point of absence where crossing centuries may prove to be like crossing languages. Soundwaves. It's the difference between one stillness and another stillness. Even the 'invisible' scotch tape I recently used when composing 'Frolic Architecture' leaves traces on paper when I run each original sheet through the Canon copier" (31).

Howe moves from sound to sight, centuries to languages, scotch tape to the Canon copier. One of her favorite words is "hinge." A hinged picture squeaks.

"It could have been the instant of balance between silence, seeing, and saying; the moment before speech. Peirce would call this moment, secondness. Peter was returning to the common course of things--our world of signs" (35)

Howe's evocation of secondness, that instant between sound and silence, meaning and its release, comes in "Frolic Architecture," where material from the journals of Hannah Edwards Whitmore, sister to Jonathan Edwards, is cut and then spliced to the page with "invisible" tape. Among what's left of Hannah's words are markers of Howe's research: "1208 EP G 3 of 3 folders" (51). Secondness works in both directions, then, as a falling into silence and then a coming out of it, out from the aptly named "folder." Research is not rebirth, but.

Somewhere in the book's first section, "The Disappearance Approach," she writes about "cremains," or what is left of the body after cremation. I have a form on my other computer's desktop, filled out with instructions on what to do with my mother's cremains. The punster in me breaks out with, what we love best, cremains. My mother's voice reminds me that they are the lowest form of humor.

The last word in "Frolic Architecture" is "sudden." As this word falls into that white page, it more resembles "sudder," then echoes "shudder." Sudden death, shudder. This is the opposite to my mother's death, which will not have been sudden. Her death will have an end, but it will not have been soon. That time will come.

Blogger's sitemeter sent me to this morning, where I learned of Albert Saijo's death (they linked to my blog post on him from July, 2009). Saijo was a poet of the white spaces, especially toward the end when he refused to publish any of his poems. He was a beautiful man, and will be much missed by me and by my family. Rest well, Albert.

"But you're out. You went away and you came back. Now as you head back to civilization, you have a wildness in your heart that wasn't there before. You know you're going outback again."

Albert Saijo, The Backpacker, San Francisco: 101 Productions, 1972, 1977.

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