Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Lilith talks funeral planning

"May I take cover from the rain?" I asked the small Hawaiian woman with deep furrows in her forehead. She worked at the entrance to the business building at the cemetery; beside her, a sign announced that it's a cashless business. "Of course," she said, even after I announced the presence of my dog. We talked about the weather, predictably unpredictable, and she wondered if I were a visitor. No, lived here for 25 years, I said. "So you know."
I told her that we received my father-in-law's ashes from here, but that they were scattered in the ocean. She wants to be cremated and scattered, but her kids want her to have a niche so they have a place to visit. Her husband was New York Italian; she has his ashes in an urn that she's surrounded with flowers next to her television, which she hasn't watched in four years. She showed me on her iphone. There's a box on the small table where the grandchildren can leave notes for their grandfather.
Her goal is to die in six years, when she's 80. Her sisters have the same goal. Their parents died in their late 80s, suffered dementia after they turned 80. The first indication, she told me, is that they get belligerent. I told her that my mother got sweet in the end. Yes, but first they're belligerent. And they were a burden on the family. She doesn't want to be.
My mother-in-law is 91, I said, and very sharp. She just had her second new knee. The woman I was talking to said she needed new knees, but couldn't afford to leave her job for that long. The doctor lied and told her six weeks, but a friend took six months to heal. Her job would give her $5,000, but who can live on that for six months? The worst knee is the right one, so she wouldn't be able to drive. No one to take care of her. So, she said, she just walks like a chimpanzee. 
"Don't get wet," she said, "or you might get sick." I took this as notice that Lilith and I should head home. The heavier rain had stopped--paused--so we headed off toward home. I don't like umbrellas.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Buber 15

Oh Eucalyptus, tree that offers so little shade, so rich a palette of reds and greens and browns, I’m back! From the sidewalk, up hill from your base, I can see your cracked limbs, the spidery leaves in a splotched canopy. I can’t climb Eucalyptus, only infer from the bottom what the top must be like. Inference is imagination, if that is defined as collage rather than pure color. Like all true teachers, he wishes to teach not a view but the way. But what I’d give to have that view from the top down: bent shadows of monkeypods, a blue swimming pool, chain link fence, parking lot, stairs whose edges have been painted bright yellow. The way of the tree has nothing to do with destination. I could ascribe aspiration to its height, or stoicism to its peeling bark. But, as DH Lawrence wrote to the fish, “your god is not my god!” Nor are your verbs mine. If all nouns are actually verbs, you tree yourself here, acquire volition as your sap saps from the peeling bark. A haven is active, where the verb “to bend” in the wind suggests a bow, like Lars Nootbar to his Japanese fans. The tree is like us, but the like likely’s difference. A new pressure gauge serves little purpose, but its open face tells us that time’s a kind of pressure, that we can add or subtract it. We age into less of it, our needle bumping back toward zero, but not without a rush of water from the tank, brown from the catchment. That wow was for the photos by Tarkovsky; slow cinema ground to a halt, as when a pepper grinder completes its task, emptied of pepper, but full of beans. Her mother said Putin was coming for dinner and they didn’t know what to do with him, but the conversation turned toward life-long learning and Putin disappeared. We understand our minds best in extremis, though that makes everything else more difficult. Chaos in French is chaos, so you don’t have to learn that sound for that phenomenon, only how to organize whatever it represents. To represent chaos in two syllables simplifies it already. Language is the maid with a broom and dustpan, pushing chaos away from the center of the room and into the furrows of the house’s brow. Hausfrau. It’s the ultimate collaborator, trying so hard to live inside an ethical frame that rots as you watch it. To keep order in a disordered state is itself an act of betrayal. But it may pad your life’s lease. Find an new tenant, one who faithfully pays the rent. Do not talk about the past. It’s an early stage of grieving, this sense of shock that stifles words. We approach the subject gently, and then back off. We talk about sports and cooking instead. It’s a kind of communication, of kindness, that puts off the pain while still acknowledging it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Buber 14

If yellow eucalyptus sap looks like a duck, where’s the quack? Weed whacker, maybe, interrupts the duck’s drip, which I catch as image before another sap drip forms. They're all real to him, the characters that emerge from lines of paint on the road. Why does this duck bill drip its yellow glob on green and black below? Its palette's visible more to the camera’s eye than to mine; it filters out ambient colors, leaving only black. But approach the tree and its duck and you see a world refracted. The first sentence of this meditation quacks like a duck. I am he as he is I and we are all together. Presence is not what is evanescent and passes but what confronts us, waiting and enduring. Eucalyptus duck teases me with its slow motion. Look hard enough, and each drop carries an image of you in your red cap, standing on a green lawn, grasping your phone. Becoming Christmas ornament or tropical icicle. Somehow more pleasing not to see these excess images, to wait for the duck to return to dropness, for the tree to untangle from its wild spectrum. If you put too much red in your photos, the observer will be overwhelmed. But if you like red, you’ll swim in it, like a duck on a still pond, thin layer of algae quivering.

On each end of the Temple’s tile roof, two new golden birds. I’m told they are phoenixes, but the maintenance guy says they look more like chickens about to fight. They stare at each other, raising their golden feathers. Somewhere, plastic Buddha places his bets on these two. A photograph morphs into story, especially after humidity bends its edges, removes a boundary, opens the border for crossing into memory-land. Like a kid’s game, where you spin the wheel, move your tiny car across a line of squares, and hope to win at Life. When I remember the game, I don’t play it backwards, but forwards again. I don’t remember how it ended or what I won or lost. I find paper money in the cemetery, huge denominations, Hell Money. Bills are fictions already, like banks, even when there’s a run, but this one overspends its symbolism. If you burn it, it goes to its original owner. Heaven has high rents, like Hawai`i, but you buy a view there, away from the mounds of red clay, the wrinkled tarps, the coffin carriers on wheels. Artificial flowers are forbidden, though you find them run up against the bushes that mark an end to this carefully tended place. But seriously, I’ve never seen a duck in the cemetery, only in the culvert running parallel to the road I walk on. A tree crowned with egrets. A mongoose rushing into the bushes. The line of cats that watches us warily for signs of food. A woman in Aiea feeds them in a wooden shed by the parking lot. “No recreational use of the parking area,” a sign reads. The karaoke place next door is empty, but a sign demands silence.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Buber 13

I told her I’d taken pictures of her rusted filing cabinet and the old American car, both of them now gone from her property. She asked if I wanted to take them. Only the photographs, I said. A moment of taking removed from the moment of having been taken. There’s less to haul around that way. Her granddaughter saw the rhythm of a Pollack; he listened to jazz as he threw the paint. (She said she didn’t understand modern art, only Impressionism.) To take an object out of time renders it beautiful. That might be a big problem, as beauty shocks us more than ugliness. A woman shot on January 6, bleeding, composed. The color red spreading on a hand, the woman’s pale face framed by black hair. The cop who took Tyre’s photo as he died was not an artist, but the camera on the light pole that caught them both might have been. A still from a film from a set from a “based on truth” hate crime makes a martyr of a degraded man. Michael Palmer’s Auschwitz shoes, such a beautiful image, I remember my anger at the poet. Do not aestheticize! Make your photographs as ugly as their subject matter. And then listen as friends oo and ah over your orchid pics.

Before the immediacy to the relationship everything mediate becomes negligible. But the photograph’s immediacy arrives out of mediation. Mediation is choice: to look through a screen or to pull it away. The cat on a railing in the rain through a window and a screen, or through a screen only. The screen behind your eyes. The screen that muffles sound. Consider the screen another form of presence. It is nothing more than screen, white as a sun-drenched plaque in a graveyard. I take a picture of that blank screen beside a name and two dates. Was a man’s face on the screen; was that face a map of presence and decay, the presence of decay? Let me tell you a story. Let the story enter your mind without a screen. You inhabit a French novel, one that insists that you become an adulterer. You do that in “real life,” then return to the pages of your book, replacing one fantasy with another. The novel tempts you to become pregnant by the handsome guy on the motorcycle. Your real pregnancy, terminated, results in your execution, under a proposed law in South Carolina. History brought forward is a horror movie, both for its content and for its form. The guilt we feel seems like a way to stop time, take selfies, and then use our guilt as cudgel. A guilty settler is no better than the original one. Guilt isn’t presence, but mediation. My glasses smudged when my dog took on an aging cat and I lunged for her leash. Eucalyptus mediates the lens, grows roots in my eye.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Lilith and the gardener

When she came down from the raised bed next to a wall from which she was trimming a vine, I noticed her shirt, "Janis Joplin Live 1968." She'd missed Joplin when she came to Hawai`i, one her great regrets, since Joplin died soon after. The seats had been ripped out, but Joplin offered to pay. She was a small woman who wore a hat with a back flap and a front flap, so at first only her eyes showed. She pulled it off, and we started talking. Her father had served in the 442nd. He was a scout, carried a Tommy gun. "He had a machine gun! Don't know how he survived. He said they don't kill the scout, only the guys who come after." I told her about my mother's small army boots, given to her by a "Neecy boy," as she called him. Then Albert Saijo. She'd never heard of the Beat poets, but when I said "Beatnik" she lit up. "They were before hippies, yes?"
I noticed the Buddha standing at her front door, other side of a gate. "I've taken pictures of your Buddha," I said (I'd just been taking pictures of her). She got it at Ross. Looks heavy, she said, but it's really light; she can just pick it up and move it. She invited me inside the gate. There was a Xian warrior, also from Ross, that she'd painted white, standing in the neat garden. She suggested Lilith could go off-leash, so I let her bound off to sniff everything. We went behind the house to see her other Buddha, nestled among her plants. The wind had knocked Buddha to an odd angle, so she reached out and pulled him back. Another one from Ross. We went inside her house. Kerfuffle between Lilith and an aging cat. I put Lilith back on her leash, and we left slowly the way we'd come. The woman, whose name begins with a J, said she hoped we'd come back again.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Buber 12


There’s a white car in the woods, just uphill from the marsh; in its back open window, an American flag. Patriotism of the dispossessed, Dispossessed once, dispossessed twice. Dispossessed! Emotions sold at auction, counted out, never banned by the banners of thoughts. The flag is not a book, hence cannot be banned. A book opens. At a distance, Eucalyptus is closed, best described in an adjective: “majestic,” “grand,” “solid.” Close up (at a near distance?) the tree opens, an ear of black bark jutting out. The photograph has blue sky behind the ear, not to be heard but seen as contrast. For the artist, a painting is a prayer. For the poet, it’s prayer and epithet both. Eucalyptus’s silences might make me angry, if there were hesitations in it. The totality of it is like eclipse. Forced to focus on moon instead of sun; cloud instead of sun, your vision becomes an either or. In truth, language does not reside in man but man resides in language and speaks out of it. Or echoes inside it, as in a grain elevator, lacking grain.

Eucalyptus stands

In a stand of monkey pods

Straight man to their jokes.

On the days when there are no photographs, the photographer feels himself a failure. But there are always photographs, a friend writes; it’s a question of mood. Days when the eye’s lens gets covered by a smear of anger, of distraction. (We think anger focuses us, but it only distracts more violently.) When the surroundings are all selfie. A selfie stick is like a tree branch, though the tree never takes them. We have faces to focus on. The tree has more faces than one lens accommodates. If it turned to us, we’d smile our fiction of joy, then retreat into ourselves. Attention is forward; it risks the right flank of an opposing army. The camera your bayonet, thrust forward into a battle against thick air. It meets the tree as adversary, then regrets its hostility. When I post your photograph, I won’t name you. It makes you more general, less specific, more a citizen of the image than exclusive owner of it. Who’s to say who owns stories, the teller or the told? Our ethics is stronger than our will to stretch it into embrace. I will wrap my arms around that home where my mother lived her silent years. An embrace opens it, takes out the locks, the doors, the fences, the words by which we confine what we love to a small space. We talk about love as if it were hostility. I offered my mother to kidnap, considered her safe, answered the 3 a.m. phone calls (not hers, but those in her stead). It was all proxy at the end, words voting for other words until none were left. Talk to her, they said, but nothing seemed better, more true, less infected by noise.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

"Lilith is one stah"

Lilith and I ran into two women walking. They used to be three. One wanted to know how I'd given Lilith her name (she knows about _Frasier_). I said she came with it, and it fit. She gives her Humane Society animals new names. Two neighbors came up with their dog. One addressed us as "young ladies." When I muttered, he said "young women." I told him he could call me old. Ish. One of the women said her grandmother is 96 and still climbs ladders. "Young at heart." All the young people went one way, and Lilith and her older woman continued on to the cemetery. (That sounds more ominous than intended.)
At the cemetery we ran into Uncle John. I told him Lilith and I had given a reading and included the piece in which I yelled at him. We agreed it's best to keep talking. On the way back, he had a big plate of white rice. "Where you get your plate lunch?" I asked. "McDonald's! It's da bes'."