Monday, June 27, 2011

Documentary Poetry course for UNO low-res program in Edinburgh, Scotland

Syllabus [click for info]

Susan M. Schultz


We will be reading and constructing documentary poems in this workshop. These are poems that combine the virtues of lyric, journalism, history, and eye-witness accounts to create work that is at once intimate and public. I will make time to meet with students to discuss poems they are already in process of writing, but our class periods will be devoted to the documentary projects.


Allison Cobb, Green-wood, Factory School, 2010 [a cemetery in Brooklyn provides the focal point for this book]

Craig Santos Perez, from unincorporated territory [saina], Omnidawn, 2010 [second in a prospective series of books on Guam]

Kaia Sand, Remember to Wave, Tinfish Press, 2010 [the hidden histories of North Portland, Oregon]

William Carlos Williams, Book One of Paterson, 1946, New Directions [WCW's muse was Paterson, New Jersey]

CD Wright, One Big Self, Copper Canyon, 2007 [poems about Louisiana prisons, prisoners]

(Strongly) Recommended Readings:

Muriel Rukeyser, Book of the Dead, 1938 [On a mining disaster in West Virginia]

Susan Howe, Singularities, Wesleyan UP, 1990 [on the Puritan settlements in New England]

Claudia Rankine, Don't Let Me Be Lonely, Graywolf Press, 2004 [response to 9/11]

Kristin Prevallet, I, Afterlife: Essay in Mourning Time, Essay Press, 2007 [about her father's suicide, in public context]

Susan M. Schultz, Dementia Blog, Singing Horse Press, 2008 [about the fall of the author's mother into Alzheimer's] More recent entries can be found here: search under key words "dementia blog" and "Alzheimer's" to find these entries.

Mark Nowak, Shut Up, Shut Down. Coffee House Press, 2004; Coal Mountain Elementary, 2009 [collaged poems on union busting, coal mining disasters, and more]

Joseph Harrington, Things Come On, An Amneoir, Wesleyan UP, 2011 [a book about the author's death and the resignation of Richard Nixon on the same day]

This list is hardly exhaustive!

Items to bring with you

--photocopies of documents that are important to you: birth-certificate, passport, marriage or divorce certificates, college transcript—anything related to your life that is also an official document.

--book/article/websites about a historical event that is important to you; bring photocopies or pdfs.

--materials on a place important to you, your home town, a school, a house, blueprints, a feature of the land, topo maps, bird-watching or fish-watching manual, etc.

--photographs of any of these items.

--a copy of a good dictionary (again, on-line is fine), preferably something really good, like the OED, which can be accessed through university libraries.

--any other materials (written or otherwise) that relate to you and to which you are attached, however miniscule.


--Attendance: unless you have a valid excuse, come to all meetings of the workshop. It's there we will do a great deal of our work and have a great deal of our fun.

--Blogging: write to the blog five days a week. On two of those days, write a detailed response to the readings and/or to issues that are raised by the class. On the other three days, do a poetry experiment (see the "calesthenics" page). You may adapt these experiments to suit your own purposes, if you wish, or simply do them.

--Readings: have them done at the beginning of the week, so that we can see each work as a whole, as well as a series of parts. Bring the day's reading to class, so that we can read closely.

--Workshops: not all of our meetings will be devoted to workshopping your poems, but some will be. Come prepared to talk about each other's work, not as writing that you like or dislike, but as work that can become more effective. Questions to be asked will include: What are the demands that the work is making on us? What are its ambitions? How can it better address and meet those ambitions? The readings will provide us with a toolkit for talking about each other's work. So as you read the books, think consciously about what each poet is trying to accomplish and what techniques they are using toward their ideas, their expressions of feeling, and so on. Get your work in on time!

--I will write you comments and send them via email. I'm also available for one on one consultations and conversations about your work and about poetry, publishing, whatever you want or need to discuss. I will also chime in on the blog, making suggestions for readings and research.

--Guests: please prepare to meet our guests: I'm assuming they will include Hank Lazer, Adam Aitken, and Dorothy Alexander, though again, scheduling is fluid. Look them up on-line, read some of their work, come ready to ask questions and to tell them about your own projects.

--Final projects: you will make a chapbook of your project, one long documentary piece (10 pages or so) or several sections written toward a longer sequence. You'll need to give evidence that you've revised poems you wrote for the workshop, and that you've conceptualized your work as a whole, or a sequence, rather than a series of discrete poems. Note off the Wikipedia entry the following:

  • The National Library of Scotland holds a large collection of Scottish chapbooks; approximately 4,000 of an estimated total of 15,000 published. Records for most Scottish chapbooks have been catalogued online.
Also find here instructions on how to make a chapbook (there are other such sites on-line). There are lots of publishers who make chapbooks, including my Tinfish Press. See here for details on our series.

Here's the official calendar, subject to frequent and constant changes.

NOTE: we will also have visitors, so some of what follows may become "homework." At that point, use the blog to communicate with the rest of us, and feel free to see me outside class.

Week One

Reading: WCW, Paterson, Book One

Assignment: Take one of the documents you've brought to Edinburgh and write a poem off of it. In other words, don't touch the document itself, but put it in contact with a poem. Experiment with writing a poem that is either very close to the subject of the document, or seemingly far away. Think of yourself as creating a channel in which the reader can operate as mediator, interpreter, actor, fellow composer of the poem/document.

July 4: Introductions, exercises, close-reading from WCW.

July 5: Discuss in detail how WCW uses documentation in relation to more lyrical passages of poetry. What happens in the interstices between poem and document? Think in terms of spatial relations as well as those composed of meaning or language only. Take the larger view, too. What is Paterson? Why Paterson, New Jersey? What are the poem's ambitions, its effects? What would you like to emulate in WCW's work? What might you rather avoid?

July 6: First workshop: exchange work with other students in a round-robin; read and critique each other's poems after we set up a series of questions, expectations, values. Once we've finished looking at each other's poems, we'll have a more global discussion of issues raised among you. Also come to class prepared to talk about the project you've chosen to work on this month. (It's damn quick, I know.)

Week Two

Reading: Kaia Sand's Remember to Wave & Craig Santos Perez's from unincorporated territory [saina] Photographs of Sand's walk can be found here (among other sillies):

Assignment: Take one of the documents you have with you and compose a poem on or with the document. Use the document's language, use its space, appropriate it for your own purposes.

July 11: Talk about the ways in which Sand uses documents in her work. How does she construct a kind of narrative out of these discrete documents (as if to create linearity out of syncopation)? What is her work's ambition? What would you like to take from her example? What might you rather leave behind?

July 12: Talk about Santos Perez's argument, how he makes that argument through documentation, use of space, research? What is the process you learn that makes it possible to read this book (and Sand's, WCW's)? How does the book teach you to read it, in other words?

July 13: Second Workshop. See July 6 for the workshop plan. If you have concerns about your own work that you would like to have addressed by the group, please note those on the blog in preparation for the workshop.

Week Three

Reading: finish Sand, Perez, & read Allison Cobb's Green-Wood

Assignment: Do some research on your subject. Use whatever resources you have at hand, mostly the internet, but anything else you can find or remember (memory is always an excellent resource). Build a poem/section out of the building blocks of research, using Cobb as a model.

July 18: Talk about the claim Cobb's book makes on its reader, and then about the form she uses to convey information & meaning to you. Concentrate your attentions on a section of the book, and be prepared to walk us through it in class. How does the poem work, formally and conceptually?

July 19: Think about the poems in the text, found and composed by the poet. What is their purpose? Why are they placed where they're placed? Think about the notes. Why include them? (If you hate them, say so, but also say why.) Think about the poet's use of italics. Think about the empty spaces between paragraphs, poems. Think about the white space.

July 20: Third Workshop. By now the method should be clear, and we should have tweaked it to our own purposes.

Week Four

Reading: C.D. Wright's One Big Self
Assignment: Write a poem/section based on an image, video, photograph, painting. Be sure it's related to your topic, but use the image however you wish.

July 25: Talk about Wright's use of photographs (there are more in the original edition, but this is what we've got). Also think about how she uses voices, how she makes sure they sound local, how she works to avoid appropriating persons into art. (OR: is that a problem? OR: how do we negotiate the seeming divide between art and life, between other people and our own work as poets?)

July 26: Fourth Workshop: This will cover your poem on an image, as well as your final projects, so expect to be busy today!

July 27: Final session. Bring your chapbooks to class and be prepared to read, perform, present them. You don't have to do a formal reading: you may also do a power point or a performance using someone else in the class as another voice. Whatever works. Then we'll adjourn for lunch, drinks, whatevaz.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Farewell to Dementia Blog

Dementia Blog began August 1, 2006 with this:

--Shown a photograph of herself and Sangha (2 or 3 years ago), she doesn't recognize herself. That's my mother, she says.

It has ended with the contents of her drawer at Arden Courts of Fair Oaks in Fairfax, mainly photographs she could not identify by name, place, or time. There were lyrics to songs she did not sing, part of a novel she doubtless did not read.


My mother's dementia preceded the blog, and my memories of her will postdate it. But the blog was a place of paradoxes, an obsessively-kept record that memorialized her forgetting. What it did not call forth was a woman who told wonderful stories about her adventures in North Africa and Europe during WWII, who married late, who became a mother later than that, tried hard not to replicate the patterns of her own growing up (succeeding, failing). It did not offer evidence of her wry wit, her sarcasm ("if this plane goes down, all the fish in the sea will be drunk" she said before one trans-Atlantic flight; "you'd have to be awfully sober to find your house in this neighborhood," she said of a suburban cookie-cutter community). It did not tell the story of her childhood in an alcoholic family (hence the jokes). It did not tell of her work for the rich old woman in Meadville, Pennsylvania, Mrs. Kidder, or of the black man named Lincoln who sang about the caged bird. It did not tell of her M.A. in Speech and Drama from the University of Iowa ("Oh, I do a little Speech," she would tell people, lest they think her one of those students). It did not tell of her work at Grinnell College for a stern older dean, where she hid students' illegal animals--pig, chicken--in a basement until they all got busted. It did not tell of her time at Northern Michigan, where the president of the college had hair dryers installed in the women's bathroom six feet off the ground, where only he could use them. It did not tell of her adventures in north Africa, where she worked for the Red Cross and ducked in a ditch to avoid a bombing raid, where she saw a dead body stuffed in a trash can in Algiers. It did not tell how she invaded Italy with the US Army (in her function as administrator of entertainment to US troops), how she witnessed battles, met men who never came back from their own bombing raids, got a pair of small combat boots from one of the "Neecy boys" of the 442nd. It did not tell of her experience of the Battle of the Bulge, or of how she was at Dachau when it was liberated, of how it took her several days to even know what she had seen--all the bodies on the train cars, bodies everywhere, men in pajamas making shelters for themselves out of anything they found around them. It did not tell of how she chanted "war is hell" the one time (she says) she got drunk, in Bad Neuheim, Germany, where she told them either to fix her dripping toilet or take it away, so they took it away, or of how she danced naked in the moonlight in north Africa after drinking spiked wine, had to be restrained by several grown men. It did not tell of how a soldier greeted her every day with "when will you marry me?" til she got the chaplain to come along; when the soldier asked next, she said, "how about now?" and that was the end of that. It did not tell how she almost told stories about her friends' abortions. It did not tell of how she met my father and pretty much tackled him, of how a psychic had told her years before who he would be, or of the hearts she broke before she met him. It did not tell of the rainbow she saw as she drove over the Scottish border once, which made her happy she did not have a camera because then she could really see it, the green grass and the sheep. It did not tell how fierce a mother she was, protective and sometimes vicious. It did not tell how she would get angry and withdraw, sometimes for days, refusing to speak to her daughter, or of how she would mysteriously reappear, softening over hours. It did not tell how that happened at Lenin's Tomb in 1981. It did not tell of how we would sometimes lie in bed and giggle hysterically. It did not tell of the pianist she'd seen at a concert once with enormous sleeves, who swoooped and swoooped over the keys like a huge bird. It did not tell how she would eavesdrop on conversations and then repeat them better than they'd happened, or how she met a Swiss woman in a cafe in Basel (?) and, without any shared language, learned the story of the woman's son. It did not tell how she had survived amoebic dysentery in north Africa (was it?) only after a doctor suggested she use mineral oil, or how she demanded mineral oil when she got sick on a trip in Norway. It did not tell how she communicated her need for tissues by vividly pretending to blow her nose outside a shop. It did not tell how she settled in to suburban life, filling her houses with bad furniture and art. It did not tell how she told me to listen when Martin Luther King came on the large wooden radio because he used English so well. It did not tell how she would recite part of "Captain, My Captain" or the poem about being master of your fate and captain, as if it were possible. It did not tell about how she promised herself at age five that she would never be hurt again, and tried to live by that idea for decades too long. It did not tell about how she suffered anxiety, worried silly, arriving at meetings early, fretting over every detail. It did not tell about how much she wanted control. It did not tell about how she drove to New Haven when I said I thought there was something wrong in my head, then took to her hotel bed. It did not tell about her oddly charged relationships with my friends, or with neighbors, how she took people in and disowned them with the same passion. It did not tell about how she cancelled her subscription to Time when they published photographs from Last Tango in Paris, of how she resented the condescension of their reply. It did not tell about how we drove the Pennsylvania Turnpike in a snowstorm in search of colleges, how the rental car agency wouldn't rent her the car because she didn't have a job. It did not tell how she and my father withdrew behind a closed door to eat peanuts because I am so allergic to them. It did not tell how she tried to learn to play the piano, Christmas carols in August, but got no better than first or second year. It did not tell how she did a needlepoint on her grandmother's pillow. It did not tell how her grandmother, Mama, died in her arms in her late 80s, as she and Martha and her brother Joe laughed over dinner. It did not tell how Mama wanted to be a conductor, made large motions with her arms to the radio. It did not tell how she said she would never care for a grandchild of her own, and then how she offered to watch Sangha when we knew she could not. It did not tell how her life was woven in with historical time, how one woman wandered through wars and kitchen appliances and rights movements and elections. It did not tell how they named their cars Marfred and Heidi and TJ. It did not tell how she and her classmates were allowed to get up and look out the window when an airplane flew past. It did not tell how she loved to do crossword puzzles with her neighbor, Ernie, until he died and her mind escaped. It did not tell about how angry she was that everyone had wanted her to act, be artistic, when she should have been an accountant. It did not tell how lovingly she kept her books, down to the penny. It did not tell how she made monkey faces (yes, it did!), or how the acting teacher at her college said he had just the part for her--a monkey on Noah's Ark. It did not tell of how, as the smallest student in the class, she had her feet radiated over and again on the x-ray machine. It did not tell of how she used to smoke, until she married. It did not tell of her encounters with Al Jolson or with Marlene Dietrich. It did not tell how she showed the latter a tent in a field where she could stay and how Dietrich swept her hand forward and said, "I vill go on to Berlin!" It did not tell how she could not grieve when her husband died. It did not tell how she grieved for a Navy officer who killed himself, because he too was short, "like Fred." It did not tell how she resented her own family, her husband's family, but wanted one for her daughter. It did not tell how she was bitten by a raccoon in her own house, how she said "it just does you in" of the rabies shot she had to have, of how it got in the local newspaper. It did not tell how she asked questions like, "why do you like Modern Art?" or "do you write only for other poets?" It did not tell how she'd adored George Bernard Shaw, how she went to see the Bronte's house and Shelley's "grave." It did not tell of the set of Shakespeare Mrs. Kidder gave her that she got rid of when my father died, along with his clothes, his gold watch, his shoes, her decorative Nazi sword. It did not tell about the big pieces of pie she cut, or how she refused to borrow money or take on mortgages in Monopoly. It did not tell about the wavy brown hair she grew down to her waist, wrapped up in a bun with bobby pins. It did not tell about how, when my father died, and the young doctor entered the room she said, "I trust you're not going to ask me how I am." It did not tell how much she loved hotdogs and ice cream sandwiches, or how she ate a hamburger in Frankfurt and a frankfurter in Hamburg. It did not tell how she sat down one day to write her friends to say she was not Smokey any more, she was Marty.


Search "dementia blog" and "Alzheimer's" to find the rest of Dementia Blog on-line, or rather the sections of it that came after the book was published in 2008.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tinfish Retro Chapbook #4, by Kenny Tanemura


In Kenny Tanemura's rendering of him, Mao is hardly an all-powerful leader, or icon. Instead, he walks down the street, encounters the poet in his kitchen, offers a friend romantic advice, thinks about Filipino literature, suffers from indigestion. He is muse to a poet who thinks about many of the same things, who reports on conversations with Mao as if they were as ordinary as pears. An assemblage more than an historical figure, his figure shadows everything that happens in this collection. Tanemura writes with a deft wit, in whimsical but pointed verse.

from "Requiem for Mao":

Mao walked by me on North Street,
the sleeve of his shirt brushed against mine.
While I was working at the computer,
Mao roller-skated around my kitchen,

knocked on the wall with his knuckle.
He let me figure it out slowly:
why he wanted a homeland
and a mother tongue to keep

his adolescence in a perpetual
state of calculation. But Mao knows
that the checkbook on his desk,
and the honeysuckle on the side-street

around the corner from my place
are more than a reflection. The basket
on the tabletop and the anemones
are on the same plane, winners and losers

both play with a racket.

Former member of the Junior Young Buddhist Association and the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple, 2.5 generation Japanese American, ex-Obon Festival volunteer, Dharma School educated, West Coast writer. Tanemura is a graduate of the MFA program at Purdue University. His poems have appeared in Volt, The Sonora Review, Xconnect, XCP: Cross Cultural Poetics, and elsewhere.

You can purchase this chapbook for $3 at; there's still time to order all 12 for $36. Designed, like all of the Retro chaps, by Eric Butler.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The contents of my mother's drawer

At the end of her life, my mother had hardly any possessions--some clothes, an ancient television, a couple of pieces of furniture (were those even hers?). But she did have the contents of a bed-side drawer, where I found all of these items except a photo of my dad, which was perched on a ledge above her. It appeared to have been folded and injured, probably by her: one of her neighbors is infamous for destroying family photos unless they're contained in the sealed box outside her door. There are photos we sent her of the kids; a Ph.D. graduation photo; some birthday cards, the most recent of which was 2007 or so; there are lyrics to religious songs, including "Mansion Just Over the Hilltop," which begins: "I'm satisfied with just a cottage below, / A little silver and a little gold; / But in that city where the ransomed will shine, / I want a gold one that's silver lined." Finally, there's a small ripped out section of a novel that belonged to another resident, namely Hobgoblin by John Coyne. (This resident turns out to be one of the lovebirds.) The first page of this copy, which is page 277 of the book, has quite a sex scene on it; at the bottom, etched into the page from an earlier one, can be found seven question marks.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A shadow-talk with Roland Barthes on mourning

Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary, translated by Richard Howard.

RB's mother died 10/25/1977, which was my mother's 60th birthday. I found his mourning diary at Bridge Street Books today. Many entries do not resonate for me, but some do quite profoundly. He wrote his notes on index cards; they were only published in 2009 in France, and in 2010 in the US. I want to talk back (the belated talking to, when one party is unable to speak in the present) to him about many of his notes.

So, RB like this, SMS like this. We're at a cafe somewhere, calling and responding.

--I don't want to talk about it, for fear of making literature out of it--or without being sure of not doing so--although as a matter of fact literature originates within these truths. 10/31

The strange phrase here is "without being sure of not doing so," but more so because the full sentence turns on that pivot between the fear of literature and acknowledgment that this is what it's made of. Why the fear of literature in the face of death? Or is it the too-sudden emergence of literature, before the mourning period makes it somehow appropriate? When I began my blog, I had no idea it would record her death in some near-present tense; had I thought toward the moment . . .

--A strange new acuity, seeing (in the street) people's ugliness or their beauty. 10/31

This rhymes with my experience, though usually without the suffix of "ugliness or beauty." I simply notice them more, when I notice something other than my thoughts--not distractions, except when I'm driving (or riding my bike). Altered states are not states so much as wobbles, the inside of a balloon as the air comes in and then exits, quickly. Pfffft.

--What's remarkable about these notes is a devastated subject being the victim of presence of mind. 11/2

Again, I don't think that the word "victim" sings to me, but the rest of the sentence does. During her last hour, her hand seemed to be melting, mottles into skin, skin into nails, fingers into fingers. When my urgency was not to save her, but to send her on as well as I could.

--henceforth and forever I am my own mother. 11/4 (which was the day of my father's death in 1992)

And henceforth this writing about my mother will be writing about me. And that is some of what makes me feel nervous, awkward. Until now, I was not the story, the story was my mother's dementia, that of her colleagues at the Alzheimer's home, the story of care, of pain, of memory jostled, necessary, in the face of forgetfulness. To what extent can writing about grief be about the person who is gone? Or are we now left with ourselves as subject, object, verb? During dementia, there were losses but there was not Loss. Grief is official now. But whose is it? Hers, mine, that of the cloud in which our information is stored?

--Struck by the abstract nature of absence . . . Which allows me to understand abstraction somewhat better; it is absence and pain, the pain of absence--perhaps therefore love? 11/10

Abstraction used to feel like a place of refuge. Like the place you could go when the kapu was broken, and you'd be safe. Now it is not only a spirit (instead of material person) but a spirit that is moving away. Not public transport, nor private, but transport nonetheless, and not (necessarily) solitary. I must follow the track of the Tibetan Book. I lost it on Tuesday. Bard, bardo. A soul in search of her next incarnation. One hopes she's not in northern Virginia's traffic pattern, blocked arteries on a Saturday afternoon.

--Mourning: a cruel country where I am no longer afraid. 11/17

The mind softens, the Buddhists say. Every blow makes us more pliable, more liable to adjust, not to duck but to face forward, absorb punishment as something more loving than that. When Barthes writes of not being afraid, he means that he has suffered until he knows how. It's not alleviation of suffering, at least not at first, but the promise it will at once go and be our guide. In the middle of the woods and all that.

and especially:

--[Status confusion]. For months, I have been her mother. It is as if I had lost my daughter (a greater grief than that? It had never occurred to me.) 11/19

She was neither mother nor daughter at the end. I have a daughter, who is not powerless, says what she means to say. But she was not my mother, either, except as the living memory of her. The body is memory, even after the mind checks out (extended stay is not home). She was like the spirit in Beloved, at once a person and a ghost. But those who stop visiting Alzheimer's patients think ghost, not person. Person is there to be seen.

--What I find utterly terrifying is mourning's discontinuous character.

In my stupor today I watched golf on television. There is a new golfer; he's Irish. He was wearing a baby blue shirt, an ad on his white cap. But to watch golf is not to know where you are in time or place. It's not on a field you can take in, the players all in the same space, time. Instead, the game discontinues, from hole to hole, frontwards and then back. It's grief without the affect, merely the motion of grieving, the arcs that are not yet circles, the holes that have not yet been filled with flags (mom died on Flag Day at the home). It's important to die at home, they told me.

After that point, Barthes' entries replay themselves, a circling that fails--that does not try--to close. Love for mother becomes love for grieving over her (perhaps). He's not reached mourning; he's at the many stations of melancholia. At some point in late 1978, when he is still taking these notes, I attended one of his talks at the Sorbonne. I remember nothing of it, except a solitary man sitting in front of our semi-circle of seats, audience rapt in its devotion for him.

Friday, June 17, 2011

'The key is in the sunlight at the window in the bars the key is in the sunlight.'

--Your mother was in the common room after dinner on Tuesday, wasn't she? I was surprised to see her there, says the new resident's relative. The new resident is Io, who screamed help! the day my mother died.

--No, she died at 6 p.m. She couldn't move.

--My mother always asked why her husband never visited after he died. She had psychic powers. She worked on them. I have them, too, but I'm scared to push; you can get to the dark side so quickly. Your mom was sitting in that chair. She would usually greet me, if only with her eyes. But this time there was no response.

--I don't usually tell people, she adds, so they don't think I'm loony.

--I left deliberately, says the gentlest caregiver. I pray for you, you know. You're always here alone. Be strong. Yes, I heard the story from R. about your father's voice. He told me.

The lawyer says it doesn't matter about the will if you're an only child. There's some hierarchy, her assistant tells me, before she arrives. Marriage, children, unless you remarry and there are more children, or earlier ones. I get lost in the possibles.

--No, there's no funeral, I tell the cook, who asks about a bewing. She gave her body to science, and then I'll get the ashes. Never wanted a funeral anyway.

--I can see that! I'd love to have my remains spread in the ocean waters.

--Let me do it for you. We have lots of ocean.

She will rest in peace, the old neighbor writes from his Android. Everything an ad, an alert, a pointer toward. The lawyer says her niece, the one going to Vandy, loves Walmart. Let me tell you, she said to her niece. How you spend your money.

I always get lost in Arlington. I plot out my route, and I follow it. Up to a point. The Washington Monument appears and it's not what I want. Circle back, find the lawyer. Are you lost, too? asks S, when I say good-bye to her. She carries two purses, full of apples, oranges. No, not this time, I say.

I say good-bye to Mrs. L, to whom I gave mom's orange dog, the one with alien eyes. I kept the rabbit she held when she died. Mrs. L. looks at me and laughs. I say good-bye again. She laughs.

I say good-bye to F, the woman who talks, even if sentences are not plotted against a graph of sense. I'm tired, she tells me. So droopy. She was fighting the caregivers the other day, didn't want the girls to have to help her in the bathroom. Her white narrow-cabled sweater has a stain on the front, like my mom's when I left it in her room to be given away.

I thank T for her kindness. She says her daughter brought her here, holds out her hand, as if her daughter were seven or eight years old. She turns the wrong way. G. says they haven't served lunch. Only a cracker. Only cheese and a cracker. She's hungry. Walks to the clock in the right corridor, where I've led them. Two hours until they feed us!

M practices telling time over dinner, looks at the hands, the every other number on her father's watch. Her brother walks us through his trilogy. Templars, an Academy, children being misused to violent purpose. He and a friend infiltrating to save them. A hole in the wall that's meant to look like a hole in the wall, though it isn't.

I say good-bye to them, too. There's no reason to return, if you take family as the baseline, "blood relation" as trump card, though blood thins. That's odd, her pulse is normal, just weak, said the nurse, a minute before mom passed.

She fought so hard to stay alive. It was time, L tells me.

Amazing how they know when it's time to die, says E. Shook her head. No food. No more. Willed it.

"Strange to think of you, gone without corsets & eyes, while I walk on the pavement of Greenwich Village."

Whom to believe, the one who saw her struggle to live, or the one who saw her choose her exit? She was in her bed when she was in the chair after dinner. She was a ball of light in my hotel room. She was whatever was intended.


Two lines of poetry from Allen Ginsberg's Kaddish and Related Poems (1959-1960) from his Collected Poems.

Thank you to Josh & Gini, Sam & Meera, to Kyle, Pia, & Esben, & to Steve, Ellen & Max for three mind-lifting evenings of good & loving company this week. To Jerry, who gave me back my father's voice so soon after my mother died. To Elizabeth Wildhack, Esq. & the adroit accountant, Arlene Millican. And to everyone who called, wrote, facebooked, emailed, took time. Thank you to the caregivers, the hospice workers, the doctor (Hermes!) who arrived at mom's door the very moment she died, the compassionate people who populate this world that I leave, for now, & to which return is required, but not always to be feared.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

June 14, 2011: After the Hyphen

An hour's sleep & then my thumb pulls the peel off a ball of light.

Panic attack without panic. Hours & days before the end, I read in the brochure that hospice left, the dying person experiences surges of energy. I saw none in her, but now in me a rivered string of lights is coming down the street, house by house, as it did after a power outage in what, 1968?

An hour before she died, her breath kept catching, as if her body forgot intake out take intake & out. Then habit returned effort to her open mouth.

Dying is a verb.

T wanders in and out of this. She was my mother's neighbor on Country Lane, hair dyed black, jacket checked black & white, slacks black, arthritic fingers painted off-red. What's going on, she asked at Martha's door, yesterday, which is now the day before. My mother's sleeping, I said. She'll be ok. No, she's not, T replied, reaching a hand out to mom's forehead, shaking it back and forth. Tried to pour water into mom's mouth before I said no, they did that with the sponge.

After mom died at 6 pm, E teased R he'd need a new girlfriend. He was the one who, when he told my mother to get up for dinner, she did. E got her elbow in the ribs. Not R, the tall man. She always did like men, I said. T, standing next to E, called out, Yes she did!

Ellen took me home with her and Steve. They & Max asked about my father. I offered history: Michigan farm, auto plant, air force (when it integrated, he knew Tuskegee airmen), IBM, Western Union. Ellen said, Jerry Lawler. Jerry Lawler! My father's Irish friend, office roommate of Col. Dudley Stevenson, Tuskegee airman. Steve called Jerry; we explained the coincidence. He darted off to find a letter. Please, do you mind? I'm looking. Dear Jerry, the letter read. My father's voice, Irished. Jerry, you never put yourself above others, gave credit to them & did not take it. The experience of an Irish immigrant. Martha & Susan join me in wishing you a long & enjoyable retirement.

Ellen's family in the concentration camps. Mom there when Dachau was liberated. Her memory was stronger than the first impression. Men in striped pajamas making shelters out of anything they could find.

C & R wash mom's body. Suddenly, from C's phone, the voice of a child singing in Tagalog. My niece, she's three years old. The only Tagalog she knows is what she sings.

The day I left Hawai'i I took my usual bike ride. Was side-swiped by a silver pick
up truck that didn't stop. As I tried the bike, a man called out from down the road, asking if I needed a ride. Should have gotten the plate number, he said. He was a windmill worker from Pahala, living in Hau'ula, who picked up my bike, put it in his truck, drove me home. I tended to the bleeding elbows, later found a deep bruise on my right hip. Only when I arrived in Virginia did I feel the heart bruise, blue circle embedded near the center of my left breast.

R dressed mom in navy blue pants, & a blue & white striped shirt. When I came back to walk her to the black SUV with flashing lights (give my body to science, she always said, and we did), a man in sun glasses attached a tag to her big marbled toe. Check the spelling, he said. E had already witnessed the act.

Om mane padme hung.

A death in the family

Martha Jean Keefe Schultz, October 25, 1917-June 14, 2011

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Like a Walking Meditation Without the Walk: Travel Day 1

On the television this morning, auto racing (delayed for rain in Montreal) & motorcycle racing. Engines whine. The tracks are circles we cannot trace. The man who taught us to make fish hooks has his students draw. Unless you see the form in your mind, you cannot make the makau, he says. Ernesto Pujol walks toward me at the gallery cafe; I know him from his videos, photographs, I know him from his walking. I heard about you from a hotel clerk in Lawrence, Kansas, I say. That was his student in Utah. (The link is an orphan.) I do not say that I love Albert Pujols, that his slump is over, that he shaved, that he too walks a lot.

A mode of art that is not power, but offers us a model. When I watch you walk, I see feet, legs, knees, hands, narrow sideburns. Robes make it harder to see the legs, the knees, though they make the body whole. Anne says when we die, she likes to think we become one with ourselves. Without the seams. Unseamly. Unseemly blog, you carry me forward to your own end. Shall I grieve for you, too? This odd & backwards walk, like memory but without the memory. (They hand out flash drives like candy these days.)

Mode, model, make. My Versa followed by a white hearse yesterday. Pick-up truck whose license read "Viet 67." Combat plates.

The epiphany for me is in the first 10 minutes or so about meeting form with formlessness as the way to neutralize violence.
I cannot say that death is a form, but it is not violence now. Is the meeting of. Dogen: "to accept a body and give up a body is an act of generosity." To speak of death is not violence. To write the blog is not violence. To walk is to meet formlessness with two feet, awkward prosody.

The man who taught Radhika to play the nose flute was Percy Kipapa's uncle.

"She floats," the soccer moms say. "Did you see that?!" Radhika jukes & feints & leaves another girl stuck on the gym's wooden floor. Kicks from mid-court, over the keeper's head, into the net. But when she tried to make a $100 bill out of a $1, only a repeated swish of air. How can she know the court so well, when she thinks Kalihi is Hawai`i Kai? You know your way by turning the opposite from my mother, Radhika. Glint in your eye.

Floakers. There are characters in Embassytown who sound out a language, but cannot speak it. They say it to each other as a French speaker speaks English to another Frenchman who speaks English in return. The way we stuttered French on the buses, children staring at us with dilated eyes. But when they speak to a native, none understands sound as meaning. It's a mother tongue that cannot be transferred. She is your only mother, the one who is dying like a language, steady distress of verbs & nouns breaking into pieces. But this is not violence. Is mending. Words falling petalwards into color, fabric--out of lamination and into air. Lamentation, air.

Paul writes to say he'll publish Memory Cards. His father was in hospice for four 1/2 years. No typo where none intended. Deck of cards. House of cards. Even in board games, my mother refused to gamble or borrow money. Would not mortgage Boardwalk, would not collect $200, would not obey the little yellow cards.

Sina is meeting me at the airport with the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Translated so many times, there's more than one page on amazon. It's Thurman, the one whose daughter acts. That's the one to read. On the plane. Honolulu to Somewhere, Somewhere to Dallas, Dallas to Washington, DC. Your car will be in Baltimore on Thursday. Synchronicities happen, but not through priceline. I want a fucking person on the goddamn phone.

Martha is "the same." She has not eaten today. It took three tries to get a voice on Country Lane. This voice is more soft than usual. She's having a hard time swallowing. See you tomorrow. Thank you for taking care of her.

When see you tomorrow is an act of faith. When an act of faith is an entirely present thing. Like the row of raindrops under the dark brown rail on the lanai. When an act of faith is not simile, or simulacrum. Fulcrum. Fullness. Air


With deep thanks to Norman Fischer & Caroline Sinavaiana, whose words are appropriate(d) here.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Shatner Chatter: Or, Post-Human Travel Plans

Last night:

Hi Susan,
Thanks for your email. Unfortunately, it does seem like your mom is getting weaker. I'm so sorry. Please keep us posted with regard to your travel plans. Also, if you need us for anything, please don't hesitate to give us a call. We'll be around all weekend (in and out).
Take care.

This a.m.: Secure and on the Arden Courts waiting message sounds at first like "cure."

--She ate 25% of her breakfast. We couldn't get her in a wheelchair to go to the community room. She's very weak. [I ask.] Yes, come earlier.

Nurse says the same thing.

Got tickets for Thursday arrival through Plane and rental car for less than a round-trip ticket. I booked the hotel on the wrong night. Can't ever remember the red-eyes take up the night. I call priceline, get William Shatner, a phone tree, no persons. I look at, but there are no phone numbers. There is no phone number for United Airlines in either of my Honolulu telephone books. They merged, so I call Continental, get Daphne. Daphne looks up my reservation, says United owns it, gives me their number. Phone tree. I speak loudly--too loudly--to the automated voice. I get a person. I tell him how grateful I am to have a human being, and he thanks me. It's then I realize that he sounds automated. He is sorry to hear about my mother, but he can't do anything, because I made the plans with an agent. I call priceline again, more Shatner, no human being.

hi susan,  thanks for letting me know.  very tough and poignant times for you i guess and beautiful too.  i send love.  if you want to send me your mom's name we can chant for her and hold her and you in mind.    Yrs, Norman 

I can get a one way ticket to DC, which is not Baltimore, where I will have a rental car on Thursday, the day after my hotel reservation begins in Fairfax, and where I'll return from. I can get a one way ticket to Baltimore, but it's crazy. I will get the ticket to National. I will beg them to change my rental car reservation and they will tell me they cannot. It's not them, it's priceline, and I refuse to talk to William Shatner any more. He can beam me nowhere.

I call the cousin down the street. I will leave Radhika with them tomorrow. They can pick up Bryant and Sangha in the evening from Kauai. Or I can leave the car and let them know where it is at the airport and they can tell Bryant when he arrives. Bryant cannot be reached. He is on High Adventure with the Boy Scouts.

I am on High Adventure with I hit the purchase button. The screen tells me they are negotiating deals. Little dots flash at me. Birds on a wire. William Shatner is there, one fist jabbing the air toward me, the other held back. He is shadow-boxing, as am I. They have made me a good deal. Too bad it's the second deal I've made this week. Two good deals do not one make.

My mother broke her pelvis a couple of months before our wedding. She canceled her flight reservations. "I got my money back!" she told me on the phone. She was well by the time we married. She would not want me spending her money this way.

I call Arden Courts back, say I'm coming Monday, please keep her going until then. "We're trying," says the caregiver.

> I'm visualizing you sitting with your mom. > > Much love, > Sina >

Friday, June 10, 2011

Dying: A Self-Help Manual

Mr. Murphy was dying. Mrs. Murphy came to visit. For three days they talked & wept. Sister Brigid wondered if she should intervene. But on the fourth day, Mr. and Mrs. Murphy laughed. Sister Brigid asked Mrs. Murphy what had happened. Mrs. Murphy told her they had spent those days sharing memories of their 40 years together. "This story," the Rinpoche writes, "shows to me the importance of telling people early that they are going to die, and also the great advantage of facing squarely the pain of loss" (Sogyal, 179).

Books about dying are books about talking. They advise the dying to talk, and the living to talk, the dying to talk to the living and the living to the dying, and they talk about all of this. We ease our fears by talking; we clear our psychic inventories by talking; we are cured through our communicative powers. "When I hold her hand," Christine said this morning, "she rubs her thumb back and forth on it, like she did when I walked her to the community center." At meals, I remember, she moved her thumb back and forth over her own other hand.

"Talking about dying is very difficult," David Kuhl writes. "We are afraid that talking about death beckons it" (xv). I say my mother is in hospice, and what I hear back most often is quiet.

--She's weak, she's very weak. Closes her mouth when she doesn't want to eat. We bring her soft foods, puddings, oatmeal, jello. Not doing well on Ensure. Likes the cranberry. She closes her mouth sometimes when she doesn't want us to feed her.

--Did you tell her I'm coming? Next Thursday.
--Yes, oh yes, and I'm going to keep telling her.

My neighborhood is full of signs: real estate signs, do not let your dogs poop signs, reunion signs, birthday party signs, lost animal signs. "Please return my puppy / I am crying" reads one. Another asks its reader to return a stolen rabbit. There are photos, but the puppy is too small and the rabbit appears only from the back. Mark (a third one) says he and his roommates in Boston lost their cat. They spent all night making signs and posting them on Beacon Hill. Hours later, arriving back at their apartment, his roommate released the lever of the lazy boy. Out popped the cat.

Like the first rush of a martini, like the moment meditation reaches the top of the skull, like the time you notice leaves in the air between your eyes and the Ko`olau, like the inside of a house that is suddenly larger than its exterior, like a meadow that stretches like toffee, like a simile strained to the point of rupture, like an active alert patience, grieving.

An impossibly synchronous annoyance. Do not play your video game so loudly. Do not leave your trash in the living room. Do not tease me. Do not stop packing for your camping trip. Do not look at me that way. Do not pass me the phone. Do not treat me like this is an ordinary day. Don't you understand!?

"Connect by talking. Connect by listening. Connect by encouraging memories" (Miller).

I talk to the nurse at Arden Courts. I talk to the nurse at Heartland Hospice. I email the social worker from the care-management agency. I talk to the receptionist. I talk to the man at Murphy's Funeral Home. I email my lawyer. I email the hospice people about Medicare forms, requests to treat forms, requests not to treat too much forms. I send attachments about the body being given to science. I talk again to all of the above.

Bryant and Sangha are on Kauai, camping. If they are near a cell tower, they will call. Bryant did not call last night; he has not called this morning.

The books do not tell me how to connect without talk, without sound, without memories. The books do not tell me what it means to grieve one-sidedly. The books do not tell me this isn't so, that there are as many sides as during meditation--no sides at all. The books keep talking at me. I am at a lecture on grieving and there are five stages to learn for the exam. This will be the most difficult exam you will ever take, I'm told. The results will be scientific, as the form is multiple-choice. You will find yourself a) calm; b) angry, or c) watching a lot of baseball on your computer. The Greek word is a) thanatos, or b) minotaur. Be sure to use a number two pencil and press with confidence.

Which of the following statements is most helpful to the loved ones of a dying family member:

2) You are so much on my mind right now.

Word problem: You are on an ocean liner looking in at a dock of faces looking out. There is the space between you, which breathes. If you look at the water's surface, you see flying fish, birds, whitecaps. (The telephone lines at Souza Dairy field yesterday rippled with light, as if there were abacus beads floating back and forth between old wooden poles.) A canoe sets out from the dock, but it does not have the ocean liner's horsepower (sic). Someone is paddling toward the ocean liner as quickly as she can, left hand at the top, at the bottom, right. Will she get there in time? What equation do you plan to use in your calculations? (Be sure to record the process of your work, as well as your final results on the test paper.)

May the Queens of space and hosts
Of angels come behind us, circling
To cover our backs
And together deliver us
From the dreadful
Straits of the liminal, and carry us
To the shores of freedom.

I always thought it would be wonderful to be reborn as a seagull, my mother said, until I realized that they live on garbage.

Works Cited

David Kuhl, M.D., What Dying People Want: Practical Wisdom for the End of Life. (NY: PublicAffairs, 2002). This book belonged to Scott Swaner, a Tinfish translator, and was sent to me by his sister, Sheri, after he died. Thank you, Sheri.

James Miller, "Ideas for a Time When Someone You Love is Dying,"

Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994.

Caroline Sinavaiana's version of "Fundamentals of Navigation" from The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Formal Feeling Comes: Or, Just Forms

I am aware of the prognosis of my illness and I understand that treatment is palliative rather than curative. I consent to the management of the symptoms of my disease as prescribed by my Attending Physician and/or the Hospice Medical Director. My family and I will help to develop and will participate in a plan of care based on our special needs. [Virginia Dept. of Medical Assistance Services, Request for Hospice Benefits form]

How will my body be received once it arrives at Georgetown?
Very special care will be given to your very special gift. You can be assured that your remains will always be treated respectfully, carefully, and sensitively. The doctors, students and healthcare professionals here are mindful of your serious and generous intention to enhance their opportunity to study human anatomy. They are aware of their debt to you for offering them such a priceless source of learning. [Georgetown University School of Medicine, "Information on Bequeathal"]

In accepting these services, which are more comprehensive than regular Medicaid benefits, I waive my right to regular Medicaid services that are duplicative of services required to be provided by the Hospice except for payment to my Attending Physician or treatment for medical conditions unrelated to my terminal illness . . . I may be responsible for hospice charges if I become ineligible for Medicaid services. [VA Dept.]

I understand that unless the donor has indicated her/his preference, which is binding, Georgetown will not share the use of a cadaver with another Medical School without the permission of the Next of Kin. [Georgetown]

Mercy wanders in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. She
climbs to the top of a mountain, one of the Old Woman
Mountains. She sits down, filthy and hungered. Who.
Why aren't you floating? I have to do this this way.
[Alice Notley, Culture of One]

I understand that I may be billed for co-payments and deductibles required by my medical insurance. I understand that I am responsible for notifying Heartland immediately of any change in my insurance coverage and that I am responsible for any charges not paid by my insurance carrier resulting from my failure to do so in a timely manner. [ADMISSION AGREEMENT: Election of Hospice Benefit and Consent to Treat]

Dear Dr. Braddock:
If you die in your sleep do you know you are dead? Your clinically precise word order is a failure of dream-work. It gives an effect of harmless vacancy. Why this violent tearing away?

[Susan Howe, That This]

(Revised from "Donating Your Body to Science")
7. The donor is in fetal position or has contracted limbs.
Rationale: The body must lay flat on a table in order to be placed in our storage area.


May the elements of the earth not rise up against us or the elements of forms, containers, urns, bearers of ash. My son's teachers say his prosody is good when he reads. He scans. I scan form after form, email, pdf, fax, fail. Repeat. I understand the progress of my treatment, where I am my mother. I do not sign for--but as--her.

My sister-in-law tells me about a book in which the inside is larger than the outside of a house. The house of my mother's body still contains her. Not the her a "memory table" can organize, but one on which photographs are set beside the white out. Each visitor must dip his brush into the white substance and cover over a part of her face, her arms, her legs, her breasts, the cigarette she held up in the 1950s black and white snapshot.

Her body is an urn. Ern Malley was a fake. Poet of air, not the dump. Culture of one, where one is multiples of one. He was two men, but a third poet. Why do we say a dog has a good "personality"? The neighbor who walked Murphy died; I knew his widow by the dog she walked. She is he because his little dog loves her. I call Murphy's Funeral Home to make back-up plans, just in case mom's body is "excluded." It's a family-run business. There are the Murphy's on their website, all eight of them, looking out. It was Martha J. Keefe, because the "O" had been too Irish. Whited out. Half the women in Cork looked like her.

I can't remember why I wanted to make a codex.
Marie doesn't know the word "codex." But she tries not
to remember, by making what she makes containing
all her memories and yours, o garbagers

Random access memory. Trunk of a tree or block of wood. The plank in reason. Rationales for "exclusionary criteria": as if fact mitigates fact. If your body is obese, it will not fit in our storage area. Or: "the anatomical relations are altered." No alteration where alteration found. Donne was a nasty poet, Ben notes. Ambition is as ambition does. Has nothing to do with flies, but with aggression. "The point is not to suppress your anger, but to watch it and let it go," writes The Motocycliste.

I am short with family, short with friends, short with cat, short with dogs, short with newspaper commenters, short with people on the phone. I am short. My mother is short, as was my father. Shortness runs in the biological family. My mother's body, stepping into the tub, taught me what a woman's body is. Pubic hair red, her head of hair was brown. (Born a red-head, her hair color changed within days.) It is now mapped otherwise. Choose satellite or map, or the hybrid that offers pegs & pins on photographs of actual streets. They will try not to use IVs, as that might exclude her body from "donation to science."

In Notley's book, Marie's shack gets burned down, and again. Her dog is killed by mean girls. My mother's mother put her dog to sleep when she was away. My mother's body is a house that will be burned. Her cremains revert to Next of Kin, where Next of Kin is I who sign the forms as her.

It means that I make perfect sense. [Notley]

The the. That this. Here, thereafter.

Monday, June 6, 2011

"If increasing sadness": Muzak meditations

Arrived at the land of Muzak, not a destination really but a hold, a pause if not a rest. "When we listen to music," Susan Howe notes, "we are also listening to pauses called 'rests.' 'Rests' could be wishes that haven't yet betrayed themselves and can only be transferred evocatively" (TT 28). While Muzak means to offer calm, it cannot rest. Relentless Muzak. The tunes are not familiar, except as Alzheimer's music. The voice-overs aim to reassure the listener: your family member is very important to us. There is no sadness in the voice-over. When I reach Heartland Health, I hear the same muzak in my ear as at the Arden Courts number. "We're part of the same corporate food chain," I'm told by a hospice worker.

In the "Health and Safety Appendix" to the Heartland Hospice Care Patient Information Handbook that's sent me as a pdf, I find a chart. Three columns, from left: "Body System"; "Symptom"; "Comfort Measures."

E calls to say mom is "comfortable," and "in no pain." But she does not have funeral arrangements. She gives me two names. One is Money & King. May I laugh at the irony? I do not think the muzak would want me to.

Under "comfort measures" for "Symptom: Feeling sad," I find, listed after bullet points:

Offer gentle support
Allow discussion of feelings
Give medicine as ordered
Notify nurse if increasing sadness

What I'm told is that my mother speaks, but that she makes no sound. Ellen: "She 'mouthed' some words but I couldn't make out what she was saying. I told her that you send your love." Social worker: "When your mom was speaking to me this morning, she was not projecting much sound and it was primarily me understanding the words she was mouthing to my questions."

Mouthing. When the mouth operates, but cannot project sound. The OED defines "mouthing" as

The action of mouth v. (in various senses); spec. the action of speaking in an empty, pompous, verbose, or foolish manner; an instance of this.

Merriam-Webster on-line defines it so, as well. The fourth definition works best: "to form soundlessly with the lips." The example has to do with a librarian. The librarian has volition; he knows he ought not to speak loudly, so he mouths his words. My mother tries to project sound, but none emerges. Another definition for the noun: "The entrance to an underground working from a mine shaft." To mine the mouth for words. To mine the mouth for words and come up without a seam, a vein, a breath. To go underground but not find the ground of saying. Form without content, and yet still content.

Muzak is mouthing's opposite. It's all sound, no meaning. No, that's not right. There's meaning, but the meaning is to avoid the underground, the mouth, the vein, to pause in thought if not in time. "This is an odd mix of the practical with the metaphysical" I say to someone on the phone from hospice.

After writing that I would not be advertising my posts any more on facebook, I got mad at Mark (this is a different Mark) for commenting that blogs are "so 2006." There are words like platform, like social networking, for what he means to discuss before he knows what I mean to say. The blog is a mouth. It opens and closes with the other mouths. It is the entrance to a mine. It is sometimes thought to be pompous, bombastic, loose with the facts. It might be Muzak. But mine. Is meditation, is retrieval, is trying to make the sounds that mean something. The Heartland handbook tells me, "You may be experiencing many emotions right now. Heartland Hospice is here to guide you on your journey." They mean my mother's journey, but it's mine. I am feeling pain. I am mouthing it. If you visit, you might hear it. In or out of the rests.

Why can't I remember the tune, the content of the voice-over? Why is there a cattle egret at the zoo, when I see three outside my window now, hunting roaches in the wet green grass? Why is memory what binds us together, like a simile, or "the cow stuff," as Sangha calls Elmer's? Why is ambition so predictable in its vehicles? Why does my chest quaver like a string? Why do doves coo, and mynas scream "cat!"?

I ask the social worker, the one who is working between the one who left and the one who has not yet started, if I should come to visit. It would have to be soon, as I'm in Scotland in July. I know this is a loaded question. [The cat comes out from under the bed; he will yell in a minute, as my door is closed. "Mom is busy," Bryant tells the kids.]


Forgive my frankness.....if you are hoping to see your mom before anything happens then I think the trip in a couple of weeks is a good idea. With "seniors", conditions can change so quickly. She is weak. I've been surprised with other clients how quickly and suddenly their condition turned. I suggest you see her in a timely manner....just in case.

There are now six egrets on the field. The cat (a "senior") sits next to me, watches them, scratches his left ear with his back left leg. She might "turn" soon. A turn in a poem is when momentum breaks and the poet turns her wheel. Away from. Toward. "When we wander in circles / Driven by keen delusion / May the King of clear skies / Go before us, turning / The great wheel, and sounding the conch / on the path of radiant light / The way of all-embracing wisdom." This is where my eye falls when I write the word "turn." Sina sends her re-casting from the Tibetan Book of the Dead for Albert Saijo's passage. It's called "Fundamentals of Navigation."

Should I choose a funeral home by its website? Should I call and test their Muzak? Should I choose the home that uses metaphor? "We understand that family care extends beyond our front door." Ah, the "straits of the liminal." Or should I choose the home that uses a more literal approach? "Among the property's distinctive attributes are its front porch lined with rocking chairs."

The hospice nurse returns my call. Cannot tell if there's urgency or not. "Aspiration pneumonia," so it's pneumonia again. Oxygen mask, so she "obviously" can't say anything. Antibiotics. Not in distress. Comfortable. Will call back with any changes.

Another call. This time it's billing. She's going to send a form, but it's confusing, so she'll explain it to me. Medicare Part B, as in Boy. Three options. Advanced Beneficiary Notice. Medications may or may not be covered by Medicare Part B as in Boy or by the secondary insurer. "I presume you'd like me to choose the first option," I say, after she enumerates them. "I can't say anything more," she says.

"'Rests' could be wishes that haven't yet betrayed themselves," Susan Howe. Why the word "betray"? I know what mom would wish.

"Our spirit ever buoyant as we sank" (Albert Saijo)

Steve (friend on the inside) calls to ask if I want him to take the phone to my mother; he'll hold it to her ear. I say yes, I want that. So he introduces me to my mother; "Mahtha," he says in his Bronx accent, "this is your daughta, Susan; she wants to tawk to you." He tells me he's moving the phone to her ear, so I start delivering news to her. Radhika and I are cleaning house; Bryant and Sangha were out camping last night. Lightning, thunder. Hope she feels better. Respiratory problem--then it's Steve again to say my mother responds to my voice, that she's trying to talk back. There was no sound. "Susan wants me to tell you that she loves you," says Steve to my mother. That's how it's done. We know the words and we say them for each other. It takes an Alzheimer's village to repeat these verbal saws because they're all we have. See saws. The back and forth, without the back or is it forth.

As she loses speech, the blog goes out with more facts, fewer meditations. The hospice nurse who calls says there's a DNR for my mother, but is there a DNT? It takes a moment to remember that DNR stands for Do Not Resuscitate. No heroic measures. Should be NHM. DNT is about not transporting her from this place she knows to a hospital. I ask if I can call back; that is not a question I expected. I'm inclined to say yes, but need to talk to my husband.

She says I might want to look into funeral homes. I don't remember paper work about that. Only about Georgetown Medical School. I will ask around, I tell her. Alan Berliner, who made short films about Edwin Honig in his Alzheimer's, suddenly remembers why he called one box Picasso. That was the box containing film of his father making faces, slow faces, fast faces, taking off the glasses faces, the faces that reminded Berliner of Picasso, the painter Freud. But he had forgotten his own code. Until the film now brought it back. Take four. It was film, so there was no sound.

Honig says to remember how to forget. In another clip, he bangs on his chair, keeping rhythm as he arrives at a word that rhymes with jello. Don't you know it, he's a poet. Silliman wonders why facebook readers hit "like" at the announcement of Honig's death.

BODISATTVAHOOD IS A FUCKING JOB LIKE ANY OTHER. Albert Saijo. So now let us be cheerful as we sink. Because there won't be medicare or hospice care or heartland health or the carlyle group to get us through our Alzheimer's. The ship will sink without our buddhas and our bodisattvas, or they will not have insurance. We'll have to be in it for the poetry, the compassion, the non-return on our investments, the lacks of prizes or recognitions, the hard work for its own. Our friend has no space for his wood carvings, so he carries them in his head. This is not a solution. We suggest, considering the cost of living, that he start cutting smaller pieces of wood, making micro sculptures. He says woodworkers like nature, need their space. We feel silly for our practicalities. Know better.

I want to think that Saijo and my mother met in Italy in 1944. I want to think those were his boots she kept in her closet, the ones that fit. I want to think they ate the same bad food, saw the same entertainers, drove the same trucks, watched Vesuvius from the same hill on the same late afternoon. There are less good reasons for relation than history, lots of them. But when she got back from their war, Martha said she had no idea about internment camps. Not the one Albert grew up in, not the others. It wasn't in the newspapers.

I call the nurse back, say I've talked to my husband, yes we'd like a DNT. She sounds relieved, talks about the significance of staying at home. I wonder about transport. Bryant says the Boy Scout skit had a Star Trek theme: "beam me up, Scottie," said one boy, and another brought him a plank of wood. No, that's teleporting. The trans- in transport does not take us anywhere. That must be why it's beyond us.

Ben says Emerson's dementia did not emerge in his language, but in his silences. The time before our lives was infinite, Howe reminds us, and accepting that . . . we inherit an ancestral quiet. Dementia as return, not diminution. It's the round trip ticket we got off the internet. Print out the receipt; evidence of your voyage will come later.

[ed. note: Caroline Sinavaiana asks why I wrote "sank" instead of "sink" in the title quotation. I didn't realize it was an error. I acknowledge that error here, but will leave it above, as misprision is the poet's emotional flag.]

Sunday, June 5, 2011

"Remember how to forget. No more."

A kind-sounding woman from Heartland Health Services calls to say they will send two hospice nurses (one new, one experienced) to provide oxygen to mom later today. Am I familiar with hospice care? Have I known anyone in hospice care? "Considering your mother's age (93) and condition, the doctor has requested it." They'll be calling later this week with reports on her condition. "Condition" reminds me of "situation." My father always said "situation" for "condition," for something about which he felt uncomfortable. You get rags lidat.

"Heartland Health is an integrated health delivery system." Their "outcomes are second to none." They have a standard of care that ends: "To help you die at home or in a setting of comfort and peace." When I said mom's been in the Alzheimer's home since late 2006, the kind-sounding woman said, "so that's home for her."

Funny you should ask. I was just looking in my on-line dictionary.


When I was last at my mother's Alzheimer's home, I asked her old neighbors to come see her with me. They said that when they'd first visited, they'd taken photos of her. Other neighbors refused to look at the photos.

This morning the nurse tells me she is trying to get oxygen for mom, but the hospice nurse didn't leave a call-back number, and she can't reach the main office. It's Sunday, which makes planning difficult.

"What made you want to look up hospice? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible)."

When A puts me on hold, the usual musak starts up. "Be sure to come visit your family members," a voice-over tells me. Something about how important it is to visit. With strings.

I can't see mom, though I know she's in her room, pillows at her back, and she's not getting enough oxygen. "She's alert." There are numbers for breath, numbers for feeding, but I don't catch them as they fly in my ear.

The former neighbors say they'll pray for her.

The nurse says she'll call back when she reaches the hospice people.

": a facility or program designed to provide a caring environment for meeting the physical and emotional needs of the terminally ill" (Merriam-Webster). English-language learners get no euphemism: "a place that provides care for people who are dying." First known use, 1818.

"You're going away soon, aren't you?" someone asks me at a party yesterday. I bowled a spare. "Your daughter is strong," Kim tells me. "I like her," says Joy. Her ball halfway down the lane, Radhika turns and grins. Pins don't drop when she does. Earlier, she'd set up plastic water bottles in the living room and knocked them down with her soccer ball.

The central character in Embassytown is a simile. Her role is to liken one to another thing, render fact into fiction, truth into at least a partial lie. My mother is like a space traveler. She needs oxygen. Her narrow bed is like a rocket. Her level is at 20-something, not enough air. COPD makes it hard. There are pillows behind her. She smiled to Ellen & Steve when they stopped by. "She still understands something when I say your name," Ellen tells me on the phone. "At least that's what I choose to think."

The poet, Edwin Honig, died. A facebook friend posts a clip from a short film about him. When asked what he might say to millions of people, if he had such an audience, he says (twice): "Remember how to forget. No more."

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The difficulties of long-distance daughtering: updated mom report

In yesterday's report, I wrote that my mother has pneumonia, which is what I thought I heard on the telephone. Ah, but the misunderstandings of long distance daughtering--my mother doesn't have pneumonia, after all. She's resting in bed, smiled at the nurse (I was told on the phone), and then made it clear she was through talking. That sounds like her.

From the social worker, yesterday:

I am working with your mom until her new care manager _______ begins next week. I received a call from Arden Court today and asked they contact you. The nurse reported to me that your mom was started on an antibiotic for a cough this week. They're concerned as she remains weak and her appetite has decreased. They are thinking an evaluation by a hospice nurse would be appropriate. Based on the information they told me, I think this is appropriate. It would be an evaluation to determine if she meets their criteria.
I don't know if Arden Court reached you and wanted to ensure you are aware of their concern. I plan to visit your mom next week to get an update on her status. Please contact me if you have any questions. I will give you an update after I see her.

and today:

What I was told was that the xray was negative. I asked about this because I was confused as to why she was started on an antibiotic if the xray didn't show anything. The nurse explained to me that she had a cough and has a history of pneumonia. It then made sense that they were treating the symptoms and attempting to prevent a pneumonia from developing. I'll double check this. It appears there's a respiratory issue one way or another.

I am sorry that out of the blue I'm bringing you this type of news. I'll let you know of any updates I receive as I plan to follow up with the nurse over the weekend.

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.