“The man just opened his mouth, which meant that all kinds of secret doors in his body gave way. He did not sing so much as let his soul free.
- Ray Bradbury, "Green Shadows, White Whale"
Pausing is dangerous. Free time is my enemy. Boredom is not an option. Downtime cannot be considered.
Last night I was restless. Those are the worst nights, huh? When you are quite ready to embrace a good nights sleep and the wide-open-eyed event begins. I’ve heard some describe it as a blessing. One individual that I knew who suffered from insomnia decided to become an amateur astronomer and became quite well-versed in the heavens above. Perhaps that’s my next topic of exploration. When I was young, I could point out two dozen constellations. Now, I know where about half a dozen are.
When the agitation started, I immediately grabbed the one device I hate with a passion. The blue glow from the iPhone gave me absolutely no comfort. I took a whirl through the news. That obviously made my heart heavy. Faced with a decision to wake and do something productive - organize, work on art, read a book - or perhaps spend time praying for the state of the world that had just bombarded my soul in an instant, I chose to play a video game!
I hate video games. I have found that this form of mind-numbing is probably more dangerous that dabbling in psychedelics. At least after the terror of psychedelics you are convicted to make real change in your life. At the end of an hour long gaming session, you feel like you want to shower and stick your finger down your throat to purge the intake.
It is odd that I would choose this method of time killing. The last three years of my marriage, my former would lull herself to sleep each and every night with a game called “Word Warp”. It was a word finding game that supposedly enhanced your brain and vocabulary…emphasizing “supposedly”. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine how blind I was to a deteriorating relationship that was red-flagged daily with no communication, no affection, and something as innocent as a video game.
I would often ask, “Please put your phone down”. She had three standard replies. The first was intended to be funny: “I’ve got the high score! We are going to Hollywood!” The second was less friendly: “I’ve seen you on your phone…this helps me fall asleep!” The third was not friendly at all: “You want to control everything in my life!” Now I am fairly certain that, after giving up on conversation, affection, and - frankly - sex, and leaving the room to escape the blue glow to sleep in another room (yes, a bad move I know) she was likely hopping over to Facebook to nurture the relationship she was on her way to having.
I often jabbed at her choice of faith and would sometimes say, “I wish I believed in reincarnation like you do so that I could focus all of my attention on becoming a smartphone in my next life just so that I can have human touch.”
It is just a horrible thing to participate in a killing like this. There is nothing right about sitting back and coasting through a deteriorating marriage without taking action.
Uggh…another illustration: Years ago, I was in the Grandfather Mountain Bagpipe Band. I would often take the very long trip to rehearsal with another piper. He was a real fun and really odd guy who had a pretty hilarious nickname that I can’t mention for his protection. When we would come off of the mountain late at night, he would sometimes put his car in neutral, turn off the headlights, and play music as loud as he could with the windows down. This horrified me and I would always protest and demand that he either drive like a normal person or pull over and let me hitchhike home. There was a real fear of dying in a very horrific way in this situation. My marriage was kind of like that, but I was the driver. I didn’t really have much protest coming from any passengers, so I continued to coast down the mountain until it finally did end in tragedy. A mother, a father, a daughter, a son - all ejected and heaped up in their own little death.
If you are in a failing relationship, put your phone down. Turn your headlights on. Stop playing games. Put the car in drive. But, leave the music up and the windows down and sing…sing your life!
Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.
Escribir, por ejemplo: 'La noche está estrellada,
y tiritan, azules, los astros, a lo lejos.'
El viento de la noche gira en el cielo y canta.
Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.
Yo la quise, y a veces ella también me quiso.
En las noches como ésta la tuve entre mis brazos.
La besé tantas veces bajo el cielo infinito.
Ella me quiso, a veces yo también la quería.
Cómo no haber amado sus grandes ojos fijos.
Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.
Pensar que no la tengo. Sentir que la he perdido.
Oir la noche inmensa, más inmnesa sin ella.
Y el verso cae al alma como al pasto el rocío.
Qué importa que mi amor no pudiera guadarla.
La noche está estrellada y ella no está conmigo.
Eso es todo. A lo lejos alguien canta. A lo lejos.
Mi alma no se contenta con haberla perdido.
Como para acercarla mi mirada la busca.
Mi corazón la busca, y ella no está conmigo.
La misma noche que hace blanquear los mismos árboles.
Nosotros, los de entonces, ya no somos los mismos.
Ya no la quiero, es cierto, pero cuánto la quise.
Mi voz buscaba el viento para tocar su oído.
De otro. Será de otro. Como antes de mis besos.
Su voz, su cuerpo claro. Sus ojos infinitos.
Ya no la quiero, es cierto, pero tal vez la quiero.
Es tan corto el amor, y es tan largo el olvido.
Porque en noches como ésta la tuve entre mis brazos,
mi alma no se contenta con haberla perdido.
Aunque éste sea el último dolor que ella me causa,
y éstos sean los últimos versos que yo le escribo.
“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”
-Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein
I had decided that Hoarsely Cry was keeping a corpse propped up in the corner of the house. Boldly proclaiming to be “over her” had some truth to it, but I humbly admit that I’ll never completely be “over her”. And, although this had become a project of curating beautiful poems, songs, art, and passages of truth - the real truth was that I kept pretending like the corpse was six feet under. So, I quit.
This weekend, I ran into a friend I had not seen in awhile. She was aghast that I had stopped publishing. It was only recently that someone had told her about it and she was engrossed in each ‘chapter’. She had been through a similar experience of having her heart dashed against the jagged shoreline of selfishness long ago. With empathy, sympathy, and clarity, she navigated my tale of dread and deep despair until it abruptly disappeared. For now, it’s back.
The past two weeks have been difficult to comprehend. In the middle of the strange COVID landscape, my daughter left the state for a trip. This alone was not something I had experienced in almost a year. It gave me time to reflect and time to purge. There is, seemingly, always something left of my former beloved that I run across and am compelled to destroy. If it is allowed to exist, it gives breath to the corpse. So, digging through my closets and under my bed brought light to piles of mementos, writings, photographs, and other objects of affection that prompt memories. I held a number of predictable pyres and did not hesitate to execute those rituals. That didn’t mean I was happy about it.
It is hard to explain what exactly happens when I initiate this sky burial. There is great sadness and great relief, and a dash of hesitation. But mostly satisfaction and comfort. I’ve had strange encounters my entire life where I come across a half dead creature on the side of the road and have made the decision to end that creatures life rather than allow it to die a slow death (I have countless stories - even one involving a human…but I did not end his life. He sadly expired while I stood over him). Perhaps that particular reoccurring ritual was preparing me for this. Each bit of ephemera that I released was like decapitating a miserable half-dead creature and giving it final rest.
These actions likely prompted the multiple dreams I had about her all week. None were pleasant. All involved her various relationships and belittled me causing me to wake up in sweats and tears. But, reflecting on dreams, I did not feel sorry for myself. The pain I felt was for my children. Over these three years, I have been aware of the impact it could have or was having on them but my focus was on me. This week has burdened me we sadness over their hearts. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be the child of a broken home.
Coming back to write, I realize (yet again) that my train of thought makes unusual stops and has no solid destination. I guess this post is about casualties - the wounded and the dead. Tend to the wounded and bury the dead.
It is an absolute fact that I loathe the mother of my children. It’s not the best place to be in. I was taught to love everyone regardless of who they are or what they have done. I think that you can both loathe and love, but I’m not at “love” with her yet.
Have I forgiven her? Probably not. These reflections still exist - although no longer daily rants, they still exist. In “Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith” Anne Lamott writes,
“Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back. You’re done. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to have lunch with the person. If you keep hitting back, you stay trapped in the nightmare…”
I guess I still hit back from time to time. When I hear mention of her boyfriend or others in her support group, I have to hold back. But, as one friend put it, ‘when there’s a bullet in the chamber, you wanna shoot it’. Will time allow me to forgive? Who knows. It is my obligation to do so, but I am obligated to do lots of things that I don’t do. I definitely don't want to have lunch with her!
What does time allow? Certainly productivity, adventure, education, growth, and so on. But grudges have no limit unless you force one on it. What about wounds. Does ‘time heal all wounds’? I was told things would get better and I didn’t believe anyone. But, things did get better. I laugh a lot now. I have more purpose in my life than I’ve had in ages now. I am more productive than ever. I’m healthier. Then things happen - I walk down a familiar street, smell a familiar smell, taste a familiar taste and get a brief flood of memory that causes me to be very aware of those scars.
I recently read an article by Peter Walker about a condition called “takotsubo syndrome”. He writes,
“Songwriters, poets and novelists have long mused over whether time truly heals everything.
Charles Dickens toyed over whether the bitter Miss Haversham would ever recover from being jilted at the altar, and for many historians, Queen Victoria's black dress came to symbolise her irreparable suffering over Prince Albert's death.
But a new study has apparently put their agonising to bed and concluded that not even the clock can always mend a broken heart.
A team of medical researchers from the University of Aberdeen have said that so-called "broken heart syndrome" can leave physical scars that never recover.”
“…It is provoked when the heart muscle is suddenly "stunned", causing the left ventricle to change shape, and is typically prompted by "intense emotional or physical stress".
This time last year, I was on a bit of a high. I thought she was coming around and that things were gonna work out. This is her birthday month. Like the ache I feel in my once broken wrist when there is a change in the weather - that’s what it’s like when something like this pops up, when “I can still feel the breeze that rustles through the trees - And misty memories of days gone by - We could never see tomorrow, no one said a word about the sorrow - And how can you mend a broken heart?”
Again, I’m fine. I still loathe her. I’m just sad that it had to come to that: an end to love; an end to family; an end to “us”; and end to friendship; an end to adventure…but I’ll get over it tomorrow and “live again.”
Sophie Calle, Take Care of Yourself . Installation View . Paula Cooper Gallery . 2009 . Image: Paula Cooper Gallery
“You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts;
And when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart you live in your lips, and sound is a diversion and a pastime.
And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered.”
-Khalil Gibran, The Prophet
"The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint,
and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.
Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,
and discerning if they hold thier tongues."
In a crowd I shut down. You can't get anything out of me and if you do, I become a nervous wreck. One on one, I can't shut up. I say things without thinking and spill out the most ridiculous thoughts that sometimes shock, often don't make sense, contradict, offend, and exhaust. When trying to explain my politics to a couple of friends recently, my conclusion was shot down and I was told that I was a "contrarian".
I'm not very fond of me. I am very aware of my personality traits, so I am very grateful for my family and friends who tolerate me and take me for who I am - while offering much needed insight, advice, and scolding along the way.
This is why visual art is so important to me. It is my language. It is how I empty out my mind and release a soul burdened with energy and frustration and passion and joy and heartbreak. But even my work is rarely clear to the viewer. I generally provide some wordy explanation with a show that might end up confusing the viewer even more. It's frustrating.
I am getting on my own nerves right now as I write this and realizing that I am avoiding the point of the post. I do a strange thing when in conversation that will be rather hard to explain. Instead of jumping in to a story, I'll try to give a background or a disclaimer without any reference beforehand. It causes great confusion because no one knows what I'm talking about without the context...
I believe I am trying to covey the importance of thinking before you speak, act, make art...whatever. I want to share a beautiful work of art by Sophie Callee. "Take Care of Yourself" is an installation created by Sophie soon after receiving a 'break-up' email from her boyfriend. The message was to the point and ended with, "Take care of yourself." About this virtual encounter, Sophie briefly lamented and then developed these four words into a therapeutic and beautiful art installation stating, "After one month I felt better. There was no suffering. It worked. The project had replaced the man." She was fearful that he might come back for reconciliation and ruin the entire project.
I won't attempt to give you my insight on the piece. It will end up another ramble in a ramble. But, please, look up articles on this show on your own. It is a worthwhile study.
I was able to distract myself with art-making during my three-year lament. I produced over 200 paintings. The problem was that I didn't really "own" these works. Some of them were commissioned, some of them were collaborations, many of them were small kitschy objects for decoration (and all were for income). There wasn't much meaning behind them. Even the "Cicada" show was something produced out of some type of obligation. I wish I had been fortunate to have a personality and focus that would have produced a piece of this magnitude and that, I too, would've been free from heartbreak in a month - having sorrow replaced with visual beauty and meaning.
What to take from today's post? Probably just the quotes at the top and some research of your own on the Sophie Calle piece (installation views from Paula Cooper Gallery at this link).
Shut up. Make beautiful things.
“All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.”
- Walt Whitman
“Life is for the living.
Death is for the dead.
Let life be like music.
And death a note unsaid.”
I shared lyrics to a song a couple of weeks back that has become my most recent life anthem. Girls “Hellhole Ratrace” is a beautiful ‘end of credits’ type song that gives me a sense of mission - a feeling of wanting to engage and make a difference and embrace everyone I love at the same time. This is a rare selection that gives me goosebumps and draws out tears every time I hear it. Right now, that’s everyday. (I’ve gotta be careful or I’m gonna wear this one out.)
It may be a result of crawling out of a dark tomb - of emerging from an attempt to deliver salvation in the pit of hell - but, in this resurrected life, I am optimistic. COVID 19 looms. I’m not making light of this situation at all but it has not put any fear or hesitation in my heart. I’m not being careless or imposing potential harm on anyone else. I even had a cold (that could’ve actually been COVID 19 for all I know) for four weeks. In the midst of world panic, I've have a passion for an ascension - dying did that for me.
The lyrics to this offering couldn’t be any more relevant to me. They are drenched in simplicity and youthfulness. It is an acknowledgement of a broken heart, a proclamation of existing sorrow, an endorsement for a resurrected life, an anthem of life for the living.
I am, indeed, sick and tired of the way that I’ve felt and I’m done dying. I did it for three years.
“True spiritual love is not a feeble imitation and anticipation of death, but a triumph over death, not a separation of the immortal form from the mortal, of the eternal from the temporal, but a transfiguration of the mortal into the immortal, the acceptance of the temporal into the eternal. False spirituality is a denial of the flesh; true spirituality is the regeneration of the flesh, its salvation, its resurrection from the dead.”
- Vladimir Solovyov, The Meaning of Love
“After death something new begins, over which all powers of the world of death have no more might.”
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Caravaggio . La Deposizione di Cristo . c.1602-1603
“An unbelieved truth can hurt a man much more than a lie. It takes great courage to back truth unacceptable to our times. There's a punishment for it, and it's usually crucifixion.”
-John Steinbeck, East of Eden
Black Saturday is a quiet day. It is a day after death. It is a day when you think that the story has ended. It is a day when the story is beginning. If you are brokenhearted, I hope you understand that, though this broken heart may kill you, you will rise to new life.
Mix disc Volume VI available now:
The Cicada Verses: a selection of poems written for M.T. by A.O. 2017 - 2019
1. 23 (exitus)
3. Haunted Sonnet
4. Dog Walk
5. Low Sound
7. Autumn Sonnet
9. Last Walk-Through (pinkhouse)
10. Before Flight Haiku
11. (Black) Pearl
13. Silver (principium)
Cicada No. 7 . 24" x 24" oil on wood panel . 2019 . Amos Oaks
“Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life.”
- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
“Remember Jesus of Nazareth, staggering on broken feet out of the tomb toward the Resurrection, bearing on his body the proud insignia of the defeat which is victory, the magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God.”
-Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat
I make effort to deliver collections of offerings in groupings of 14 so I'm wrapping up this selected collection of verses with the most important verse in the bunch. This is the last verse that would ever be penned for my former beloved. It is an appropriate verse because it is a celebration of death and resurrection. This is that season - the season of re-birth and hope and waiting and experiencing Friday with the knowledge that Sunday will be here soon.
If you've missed it, read about the reason for this poem and the collection of paintings paired with it here.
If you would like a copy of a hand set letter press print of this poem, please contact me through the form.
I came to her lost
Emerged from the dark
called by a mysterious signal
Cloud of dust
Clamoring to get out of the shell
Trampled under feet
Children chased by what I was
Adorning a thousand branches
Not wanting to be here
Out of the shell
the noisiest of all
Ever faithful, she responded to my call
By the mark on my wing
war was inevitable
A superstition come to fruition
and in battle
unable to bite
unable to sting
able to sing
a shrill song was heard
a tragic rue observed
Dying without even realizing it
Babbling like Tithonus
Not brook babbling
Begging for death to overcome babbling
And Tennyson proclaimed,
“Alas! For this gray shadow, once a man -“
So, yes, I was kissed
in humid mist
and pity was taken on my withering body
But the afternoon song
went on and on
How much could she listen
when I could not even listen
and no one could listen
The sound was oppressive
The noise was great
The chatter was incessant
The chorus was immense
in the overflowing heat begat
because I am lost
out of the shell
not wanting to be here
Perched on this branch
I could have
Quieted crying babies
treated battle wounds
But summertime was
preparing an elaborate lament
knowing that this is the moment
the only moment
the last moment
And in the golden sticky sun
there is not much more left to sing about
Oh kitten who pawed
oh rabbit I frightened
oh three legged flawed
whose boredom I brightened
Oh fish buried cold
and children who cried
in houses of mold
with reluctant bride
And poor possum after possum crushed by car
Poor deer crushed by car
Poor raccoon crushed by car
Poor black dog crushed by car
Poor Hemingway crushed by car
Poor man crushed by car
I watched from the tall oak
I could see life
I could see death
Oh poor man crushed by car
began to bleed
And the chorus lifted to the sky
“O, shrill-voiced insect; that with dewdrops sweet,”
then the sky begins to bleed
my tymbals will flex my wings will flick
in comes inky black of night
and the war is over
Belly full of sap
I crave the dark
clap to cling in flight I scare
Sick lost thou that death shall sample
Oh please take these last few beats
deeper than before
I do not recall the celebration of a climax
Impatiently I wait for the last act
and say blessed be the coming end
I shall not wish to emerge again
- A.O. 2019