The Blue Pitcher

that which may be filled and emptied

Category: Writing

For Old’s Sake Sake

“Ah, what is the life of a human being–a drop of dew, a flash of lightning? This is so sad, so sad. What can I say?” –Akutagawa (translated from the Japanese)

On this day last year, I boarded a non-stop Tokyo to Newark flight. Halfway through the flight I woke up having dreamed I kept stepping into temples with the wrong foot first. After going to brush my teeth in the tiny airplane bathroom, I read the book I had found at the airport–an English translation of a Japanese writer–and then slept again, dreamlessly.

This is what I love about keeping notebooks–the tedium, the chicken feet, the Yeats, all scribbled and starred and squared. I am between notebooks right now. This afternoon, going to buy non-monied paper at Kate’s Paperie, I tried to purchase a new one, but they were out. [To the effect of tedium I’ll jot down what struck me today: the bricklayers next door, the holes in my walls, the song the homeless man whistles outside my window at this very moment, the way my students looked at me blankly when I asked what poetry is.]

It was yesterday of last year, however, that had me digging through my notebooks: our last night in Tokyo. I was in Japan with Thorn (my ex-stepfather, dear friend & travelling partner–don’t ask! I don’t know how I ended up with this life!), and we were on our way to eat dinner at a Tepenyaki steak house. There, they would throw live shrimp onto the hot plate, watch them jump and sizzle, chop their heads off and then place them on our plates. But it was the getting to the restaurant that struck me most.

The impeccable halls with their impeccable lighting: the walk to the elevator was magic. Violin music poured from room 427. Truly, it poured from the room. I wanted to knock on the door, to walk in, lay my head on the clean, square pillow and fall asleep listening to those songs.

I was just from the shower and feeling far from home but feeling good and tall in heels and satisfied but hungry and suddenly filled with music I’d never heard before. In the elevator stood a girl-woman in striped knee socks, near fifty, but giggling wildly and sucking a lollipop, her teeth red with its juice. I stared too long at her, smiled, nodded. When the doors opened we were at the rooftop restaurant and shooting straight out from the center of Tokyo was a rainbow.

The trip had been long, squatting over holes in China, feeling disoriented in an almost blinding way, comforted only by nightly phone calls to Cody and poems Andrea was writing in Europe and sending to my email. But that night, one year ago last night was perfect. And it was the disembodied music I loved the most–something so right in knowing that behind the locked doors strings gave way to a bow.

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The Round Table

Last night I dreamed that one of my dear friends was keeping a hanged man in her closet. We were at a party sitting around a large round table, and Come here, she said. Now? I followed her down a corridor, and she opened the closet door. At first I just saw the man’s naked back; he had two small pimples to the right of his spine. Then I noticed he was dead. My friend smiled. I have one too, she said.

The day that followed was almost equally dreamlike: a jaunt to New Jersey. Sanj and I (and several other poets, including most notably weatherman Ira Joe Fisher) read poems at the West Caldwell Poetry Festival; Sanj may have made some people cry. Here she is, years ago, smiling:

In New Jersey, we, of course, got lost. Sanj’s Swedish lover and his Swedish parents sat in the backseat of the Yukon while we drove in circles. I kept smiling and shrugging, and they did the same.

The whole ride home–especially when the rain started falling quite heavily as we waited in line for the Lincoln Tunnel–I tried to forget about my dream with my other friend and the man in the closet, but it kept coming to me. After she showed me the dead man, we went back to the table; everyone was laughing and clinking glasses, and I understood–sort of faintly and with a kind of shame I can’t quite understand–that we all had those hanged men in our closets, that they weren’t ours to understand or ridicule or even to really think about all that much. Maybe their faint knocking against the wall is the only rhythm that quells us to sleep.

We’re given these moments, it seems–say at a poetry reading or a dinner party–and someone exposes their own hanged man. Look, they say, and so caught off are we by their honesty that we have no choice but to do just that, to look, and then, as if in a dream, we wander back to the round table not certain of what we’ve seen, just remembering two faint blemishes and the bony spine of an unfamiliar back.

A Poem without a Single Bird in It

Jack Gilbert has this great poem, and in it there is not a single bird–no red-winged blackbird or cockatiel, no gray-cheek parakeet or dodo, not even the flap of a sparrow’s wing.

I tell you this because it seems remarkable that this is my ninth entry and I have yet to mention my mother. And so, by way of introduction, I’ll tell you a story. As a child, I rode shotgun with my mother all over the south. We’d drive and drive for days and days looking for the next place to hang our hats. If Joe was with us, maybe he got shotgun, and the three of us armed with nothing but cans of warm diet soda were ready to take the world on.

After we’d been on the road a while, mom would decide it was time to take a nap. It was our job, she told us, to tell her if there were any curves ahead or if she got to close to another car. Joe and I would yelp and plea. Mom, wake up. Please wake up. This went on for years. Even after we realized that she was closing only one eye we were still delighted and terrified every time she did it. What if we killed someone? What if we killed ourselves?

So this morning–which also happens to be the first time this year that I’ve seen a red robin–I told Cody I want a baby. Badly. I badly want a baby. Yes, after the wedding (!), but I want, years from now, someone to ride shotgun and tell me when the curves are coming, someone to delight and terrify, someone–when we feel like we can’t make it another mile–to run into the 7-11 and grab us a couple of fresh Diet Cokes.

My Big, Fat Content Heart

I have to be honest here. It wasn’t just my pappy who twisted my arm to get me to start a blog; there was also Alvin: Alvin of my 4:55 class, Alvin of the bizarre-o essays which often contained photographs of sushi, Alvin of the origami frogs; yes, that Alvin. Start a blog, he told me. Me? I asked. Come on, he said, and so this morning I emailed him telling him I had, indeed, started a blog and asking for advice on what to write. He told me I didn’t have to mention him in the first post (Thanks Alvin!) and that I should just write until my heart’s content.

And so the inevitable question: how do I know when my heart’s content?

Right now, a sirloin burger, spinach salad and glass of South African red into the evening, I’m thinking, wow, my heart’s content. But even as I write it I’m compelled to backspace. (And then, of course, in a ridiculously circular way, I want to backspace on that last sentence as well.)

This morning over shredded wheat I told Cody I’ve started this blog. We eat the big ones–no need to bite-size it–just some cinnamon and sugar, a big splash of milk (heaven!).

Are you giving health tips? he asked.

Huh?

You know, health and fitness tips.

This is the man I’m marrying in five and a half months, the man who knows and loves me better and more than anyone in the world, and he believes that if I were to start a blog it would be to share health and fitness tips. So here they are, folks. Alvin, listen up:

1) Start and end every day with a glass of water.

2) Keep cherry tomatoes on hand.

3) Laugh liberally. Do yoga. Choose watermelon over banana pudding.

4) Listen to your heart. If you can’t hear it, listen to your breath.

5) Don’t yell something over shredded wheat like “Health and fitness? Do you not understand how complicated I am?”

6) At the end of the day, take inventory. Have you been kind to guests? Have you stayed within your allotted caloric intake? Have you waved hello to the mobsters who run the flower shop around the corner, and by doing so, encouraged not only neighborhood safety but also the glimmer of hope you have for a free peony? And your heart, that big, fat content beast you’ve been hauling around town–have you given it a shout-out, a little hello, a little thank you for the rhythm, maybe even just a good night?

Just a good night, sweet dreams.

Brooklyn Rain

Wild rain Crazy rain
Oklahoma rain
Cut your legs rain
Plants go belly-up in your backyard rain
Old men getting blown over rain

The kind that falls when you’re far from home without an umbrella

Upon my Pappy’s Command

My pappy keeps trying to get me to set up a blog. He wants me to make him famous, he says, or wants me to get famous or maybe just wants to see how it is I spend my days so far away from North Cackalacky. So, here it is, folks: dedicated to the man who gave me this blue pitcher that I fill with water day after day, the man who plays the meanest ukulele in town, whose name will soon fall off your lips, the myth, the legend, the fryer of livermush and lover of Krispy Kreme–my haplessly happy pappy!