Thursday, May 25, 2006

Some News Is Bad News: On Closures, Death, Me and Stanley Kunitz

Cody's closing. Antwone's dead -- Pinetop Perkins left to mourn, recently relocated to Austin from Katrina. Híjole. Ya know?

Cliff Becker died last year. My father. I was sick as a dead dog. The chain of deaths goes back: It started when Pedro Pietri died, then I was too sick to go to Jose Montoya's Flor y Canto and read Pedro's poem, "Puerto Rican Obituary," sick with the same symptoms as Pedro, dying on a plane back to NY to die: uncontrollable vomiting. Asco, I think. But no, it's Lalo's death, too sick to attend his memorial at the Guadalupe. But no, it's ronnie burk. No, it was Gloria Anzaldua's unmarked (unremarked by me) passing. No, it's Jose Antonio Burciaga, how good he looked at the Guadalupe Book Fair, the last time I saw him alive, handing me the Death Card from his pack of loteria he was handing out as business cards -- how he took it back when he drew it from the deck and we both saw what it was, La Calavera, then looked at me, grinning that sideways grin of his I loved, "Ah, but you don't mind! Do you?"

No, I'll take it.

The Guadalupe Center, the closing of the Book Festival, the fade-out of the Latina Letters Conference. The wipe-out of cultural history.

Death and Its eraser.

And all the wicks left guttering with no one left to blow on them.

And, mostly, Stanley. "Stanley" -- that sounds weird. I never referred to him as "Stanley." He was always "Kunitz" to others, that's how I referred to him, but to my friends and family, to myself, he was The Cucumber.

Cucumber, I'm sorry, I had to call you that. It seemed to fit. Not appearance, but the way you grew and grew, the abundance of your harvests; the way you seeded others by your example, how you naturalized us all. Nothing taming about you, a fence was just another thing to climb, another shoulder to lean on. How often you offered yours. How often you cleared the path to let us pass -- no matter our matter of vehicle. Green, always. Verde. Que to quiero verde in Lorca's words. Kindred in a garden. That's how I thought of you. And not without the brambles, the tiny triggered hairs of defense. Yes, my small defense against your literary stature. One small word against reverence. To refer to you as a vegetable -- but lovingly, always lovingly, and with gratitude. But regret. Regret for keeping my distance. Regret for years of silence. Years without an intended trip to your 15th Street, 15th floor apartment. That might not be right but I leave it in for the alliteration as you, Cucumber, would understand how music, sometimes, obliterates the tears, those pesky tears of Tennyson. Idle regret for another season passing without a visit to your Provincetown providence, that heart-filled garden. But you were there, there, with me most of my life, woven into my marriage with the muse, a wedding now 30 years past. How I cried, so long ago, walking quick in my homegirl stride back to Miguel's place in the Lower East Side ("Is a long ride from Spanish Harlem to the Long Island Cemetery..." ~P.P.), silent tears streaming freely from my face as I walked through the Bob and Dylan-ghosted streets of a Greenwich Village that was still alive. I didn't care. I was proud of the moment. The moment when the next 50 years of my life unravels her taffeta and begins to dance. This life I saw in you: you, there, with the many; you, there with Yevtushenkov; you, there with Roethke. The Rothko's on your wall, just an indecernible cloud or mass to some, those still steeped in judgement. You were freedom from the Judge, in Camus' most famous definition. Famous to me, as were you. Stones were for lining the garden paths, for shoring and warming the beds, not to throw. But every time I think of you, woven as you are, as you have been, into this life of poetry where nothing matters because it all does, like the blackberry suckers a poet weaves into garden walls: every day and with a tender hand, you are not in the garden, you are staring into the eye of a Wellfleet whale, you are peering through the shot out hole of a dingy robin's head, you are forever seeing the blue there -- and I am forever there, where ever I am, there -- livid and living amid the layers. How the bramble wanders where it will but gives will to that hand. A little Dewey here, a bit of Bishop there ... what else did we talk about? Gaston Bachelard. You gave me a book by Chana Bloch. And a long list of names for my growing notebook. Like a gardener, I collected these lists then, long lives to read, like collecting stepping stones for the path. My path. It was always my path. But you were always there, a fellow traveler and not the Ranger, the affinity I elected. You understood. And I, literally, once knelt at your feet, holding my video camera I'd brought along for the occasion, thinking how it was the last -- that I would never see you again.

Mortified, in the end. How you grew, in the aging ageless years, to resemble your moniker. The earth you loved pulling you away toward her in the end as if a long invisible line were drawing you down, out from the pond, and into her. Yes, "Cucumber" I whisper into these pixiled images of you on a computer screen that now sprout from my morning sites, old familiar words still holding like a homemade trellis holds to the overgrowth. Your aged nose now looking, unfortunately, like a cucumber. And it's a lightness of being, yes, a smiling now through the silent flow that heals, as on that summer evening so long ago, when I walked fast through the grimey New York streets crying like a madwoman smiling through my tears at the life I had yet to live. Not idle at all. A good work that heals. Even if it is the work of poets. And Lords. And Lorde. And Lourdes. This "being good at doing nothing" as Cesare Pavese wrote in a poem to a whore -- who was a woman, as he saw her. Mortified, but smiling. And crying over your death, over the deaths of strangers for strangers in this strange web we weave with intent and light while typing on a keyboard -- these intimate spaces carved out of the bramble that I find through reading strangers' poetry, these blogs that are like firefly flashings in the dark or in a painting by Rothko where what little light there changes nearly imperceptibly. Cucumber. A bad name to call a good poet, but yes, it's okay because, after all, we all knew it, I was a bad girl.

Who now is this poet in the garden. And thinking of my teacher's line, Bob's, about being pleased to find oneself clever enough to arrange one's life to have the time to watch the woodpecker's comical head come out of the wood. This "sun under wood". Yes. I remember: It was June Jordan's death. It was Audre's.

It was my mother.

And then it's time to water -- before the heat of the day. So what is new doesn't whither. What is old, comes back, and bears another season. I go into these rooms I'm making with my life, these womb rooms in my new garden where the bad memories pull back and snap off like ancient weeds and the excitement of the first unfurling still spells hope without a beat-up dictionary.

And, Cucumber, I say to myself: Yes! These are the halcyon days.


Some news is bad. Some tears are good.

Some things are just the right thing to do.


Blogger Suzanne said...

'And then it's time to water -- before the heat of the day. So what is new doesn't whither. What is old, comes back, and bears another season. I go into these rooms I'm making with my life, these womb rooms in my new garden where the bad memories pull back and snap off like ancient weeds and the excitement of the first unfurling still spells hope without a beat-up dictionary.'

Beauiful, beautiful Lorna.

25/5/06 11:39  
Blogger Lyle Daggett said...

So beautiful and sad and amazing.

Lorna, I've never read much of Stanley Kunitz's poetry, not more than a poem or two here and there, though I'm finding now, in the days after he left us, how many poets' lives and work he touched.

Thank you very much for posting this.

25/5/06 20:06  

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