Monday, June 17, 2019

Meditation on tone

Issues of tone: for Judy, I could not recollect the title, The Death of Stalin, as perhaps too obvious. The next morning, Miriam writes to ask if we went to The Death of Stalin together in Brooklyn. We did, and our one dinner companion is now dead, one month after a bicycle accident on 57th Street. I spot Japanese Death Poems on my way to the computer. Open it to one of the dog-eared pages:

I raise the mirror of my life
Up to my face: sixty years.
With a swing I smash the reflection--
The world as usual
All in its place.

Judy says she hates how she looks on facetime. Her identity, she says, is that of a woman who wears dangling earrings.

At my son's ballgame yesterday, I sat behind two old men, one fat and the other thin. "Did you hear about that ballplayer with melanoma?" asked the man to my left. (It was Stephen Piscotty, Sangha tells me this morning.) They ran through the mlb scores, the Padres and Rockies 14-13 and then alluded to the first game of this double-header, at 10-9. Man on left loves Harry Chapin, but hates "Cats in the Cradle," while the other guy likes that song a lot.  Not Cat Stevens. On my way to the car, I tell man who was on my left that I agree; he says he heard Chapin perform in LA. "Opened up the newspaper a week later and read about the accident that killed him," he says. Someone wishes him a happy father's day, but he is not a father. Says he won't talk to me about Blake. I think he confused Chapin with Kristofferson, but I knew the latter was a Rhodes scholar. Could never forgive him divorcing Rita Coolidge. "Maybe he didn't like her," opined the commish.

Other old ball players come to sit behind me. "You know," says one to the guy on the right, the commish / groundskeeper, "the only thing that separated you and him was that he had a colonoscopy bag and you don't; but you ran at the same speed." The him in question now suffers dementia (which is NOT Alzheimer's, the commish opines). "I told him in the car that he needed to see a doctor." "About what?" he answered. "About the fact that you can't remember anything." He'd ask the score every five minutes, even when it hadn't changed. No, his ball-playing days are behind him. He doesn't even pay his bills.

"The world as usual / all in its place."

Behind the fencing that protects us from foul balls off the bats of left-handers, and between the curb and the sidewalk off Kapiolani, are the homeless tents. I read that they "cleared them," but nothing stays erased for long in paradise. An older African American man with a white beard leans over to pick up a foul ball and hands it to a young girl.

Our cousin said The Death of Stalin disturbed her. Didn't think it should have gone where it went. Her husband says they preferred a documentary about two young people who start a farm. It has something to do with their rescue dog barking. When I suggest there's a gap in the narrative, I get a five minute briefing. Couple rescues dog, dog barks, neighbors complain, couple and dog move to the country and make a farm together, always.

"No sign / in the cicada's song / that it will soon be gone." Unless the song is that sign. Posted: no trespassing. Posted: a white sign erased by sun. A section of forest fenced against pigs; the gate is held tight with a purple bike lock. Bryant saw a black animal with pointy ears and a barrel chest on the road. When it turned, he saw it was a dog.

"Only one dog today?" the Asian woman with a knee brace asks me. I remember she confuses me with the pot-bellied haole lady who walks three chihuahuas at a time. She yells at her dogs as if they're human children. "You be NICE," she warns them when Lilith sniffs at one of them. Her voice the consistency of rough wet concrete.

Thoreau's description of a chestnut: at once cradle and coffin, the velvet layer between shell and meat. Would Thoreau now post photos on instagram, leave the prose to technical writers? The problem is that people who know how to do things don't write about them, and the people who write could never navigate the operation of chain saw or toaster oven. The cruel optimism of following directions. Julius Knipl, real estate photographer, collector of instruction manuals. They become literature after a while, like the air sickness bag in the slot in front of me on Southwest. "Literature only," reads a small, plain sign.

A journalist emails me cold to say she wants to work with my platform on mental health issues. My platform proves to be a site at Brandeis devoted to uncovering corruption in international adoption. She found my response to an article, dated 2008. I wrote something about the gray areas between. The words read as eloquent and quaint. Have we not turned all the gray to brighter colors now? A young man was killed at Costco, and his parents severely wounded. The shooter was an off-duty cop. The young man was profoundly disabled; he had lost the ability to talk. Oh what could have happened in that frozen food aisle to fill it with pools of blood?

I promised myself I would not write so much about gun violence, would be more abstract. Abstraction as self-care, detail as the wound that deepens every day. Trump says he's been attacked more viciously than Abraham Lincoln. The newspaper reminds us that Lincoln was shot. One wonders at the tweets Jeff Davis would have sent. Abstraction is no salve to cruelty, but it opens the wound past the tear in the flesh. Shows us the consistency of red, like a tropical flower abstracted from its stem. We take the elements of trauma and retrofit them for beauty. The museum further abstracts this process, making us see the brush strokes rather than the battle-field. A small tree huddles against its kindred frame, both in and out of range of the cannons to the center of the canvas. Or: a field of orange hovers like a helium balloon over the canvas's floor. We love that it is abstract and that it means so little.

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