Wednesday, August 26, 2015


The days have been very hot, and the nights, too. It’s almost impossible to shake the heat, to shadow the light. One gets bug-eyed with frustration and exhaustion. Relentless. The light is like a screaming siren that cannot be escaped.

A day or so later ...

I just had the most intense dream. I had to move out of a business/house, under rather short notice. Most of my belongings were gone, but there were the odd knick knacks and ends that float around at the end. One was a box of blown (Murano) glass animals, carefully wrapped as if I had not seen them in a long while. At the top, was a running red horse with black mane. 

My friends MF and JC were also moving out. They had a baby, a boy with the blackest hair whose name was Vevo. They said it was a Turkish name. JC was into all things Turkish at the moment. Vevo meant lively, happy. JC, who in the dream had two older sons, was utterly smitten with Vevo. She said that it was only with her third child that she understood motherhood. (Cursory internet research says that Vevo is an Egyptian name and/or a Kazakhstani surname. ) 

One item in the dream was the desk our next door neighbor made in the 1930s, in high school, which I only got rid of when I moved out of Berkeley. I had anxiety about getting rid of it as I always thought it was very special. It had thirteen drawers on one side, all lined with balsa wood, for his bug collection.

When I went out in the back to move my car, a VW with the capacity of a vintage VW van, there was nothing there but the engine. I had somehow misplaced the body of the car. I tried to conjure it up, remember where I had left it, the body of the car, but I could not quite remember. I thought about trying to use the engine, but without the body, I had no way to turn it on, could not find the ignition, if I indeed had the key.

This sent me into a panic, of course, as we had to get out of the space. MF and JC were their usual sanguine selves. JC was too high on motherhood to care much about anything else. MF was helping me problem solve. 

Later again.

I don't know why I didn't finish and post this last week. Just rather overwhelmed I guess. Mom's health, although not immediately life threatening, has been up and down. At this point, it is more about her quality of life, her ability and willingness to engage with the world. One day, she feels well enough to drive and to take an evening walk with Ariel. The next day, she doesn't do much besides get out of bed and stare at the Trump circus on the tube.

I really had NO (INSERT YOUR OWN ADJECTIVE) CLUE how difficult it is to care for a sick person or an elderly person. Very stressful. Many times I want to cry. I end up drinking more white wine than I should.


Turn like a top, spin on your dusty axis
Till the bright metal shine again, your head
Hums, and the earth accelerates,
Dizzy, you drop
Into this easy chair you drowse in daily.
Sit there and watch the walls assume their meaning,
The Chinese plate asserts its blue design
The room renews itself as you grow still.
Then, after your flight and fall, walk to the garden
Or at the open window taste return:
Weather and season, clouds at your vision's rim,
Love's whims, love's habitation, and the heart
By one slow wheel worn down, whetted to gladness.

— Michael Hamburger, Weather and Season, Longmans, 1963

Friday, August 14, 2015


Whining about the heat. You all knew that was coming. We are in the belly of the beast of summer heat, looking at nearly 100 degrees this weekend. My mom was trying to understand why this heat bugs me so much more than the humid heat of the east coast.

It’s the light. And the lack of trees and buildings breaking up that light, so the light and the heat just beat into you. A relentless, blinding barrage of intensity. And then there is the ugliness factor. The graceless mini-malls and hopeful small businesses set in those largely unvisited mini-malls. On this side of town, it all adds up to a sort of brutalism.

As far as I can tell, and clearly I am a medical knowledge idiot, rapid onset dementia is an unusual thing. My mom talks about dying every day. Tonight she wondered what will happen to her cat, Ariel, if she dies soon, which she rather thinks she might. Or she says she doesn’t know.

I don’t know if this premonition or reality calibration coming from someone who thought they might live forever. Her MRI came back normal for a person of her age, some brain atrophy, some neuro-vascular degeneration. We see a neurologist on Thursday.

I am just in some kind of shock at how fast this degeneration is manifesting.

My response was to sleep a lot today. I feel terrible about my tomatoes, and my newly planted Blue Lake string beans are largely scorched, but other than watering, I just couldn't do much. I turned on the little air conditioner in this room and slept and watched Netflix and read and slept more. I did manage to do my little job, but I am nearly as spacey as my mother.


Every day that their sky droops down,
they shrug before it can harden
and root for life, rumpling along
toward the green part of the garden.

Every day the moles' dirt sky
sags upon their shoulders,
and mine too sags on many a day,
pinned by heavy boulders.

We get tired, the moles and I,
toiling down our burrows.
They shrug dirt along their way,
and I rumple on through sorrows.

— William Stafford, published in The New Yorker, August 12, 1950

Thursday, August 13, 2015


I made it to the library today although I haven’t been reading much. I thought I had only two books (there were about five and two audiobooks) to pick up so I went looking for that New Yorker Book of Poems from 1969 that I had out a while ago. I knew no one else would have grabbed it. Now I have an anthology for perusal. Oddly enough, I opened it to a Mark Strand poem. It’s a long one, so I put it at the end of this post. The end of the poem is in keeping with the “chat” we are having about “what is.”

In my immediate world, "what is" is not much fun. Mom was loopy this morning, dizzy, mentally jumping around and then getting her preach on about getting along with the neighbor. This never goes over well with me. There are times when she sermonizes or philosophizes, rather excluding the person she is addressing. She talks a lot about "her beliefs" and "her belief system," at which time I counter with my tendency to rely on my experience. 

It's all so painful I scarcely know how to scratch the surface of the intensity. I will keep trying.

Off to her dentist for a teeth cleaning because she felt she could not drive herself. The hygienist took her blood pressure again and it was high. That might explain the dizziness and peculiar flight of metaphysics out of context. She wants to exert control and influence over me (others also, but me especially) in this realm. I grow impatient with her "lessons."

She talks about dying more than she ever has. When her comments are mentioned later, she either doesn't remember or shrugs them off, or both. Getting a consistent read on how she is, is very hard. And I just don't know what to make of it. 

So, I renewed my efforts to find a doctor who specializes in geriatric medicine and we have an appointment in 10 days. I also found a orthopedic surgeon to get a second opinion on a hip replacement. Researching doctors, forwarding charts from previous doctors, the all of it, all exhausting. And no outlet for my fear, my panic, my astonished pain, my skidding into loss.

Here are today's tomatoes with my first Thai red chili pepper. My tomatoes have spider mites. Other plants have some kind of mold. It's always something. But I did make progress on cleaning off my gardening bench. And, somehow, I made it into the pool for my half-mile swim. I cried while I swam. Coals to Newcastle? I should have imagined myself as Alice swimming in her own tears, chasing after the mouse.


Composed, generally defined
  By the long sharing
Of contours, continents and oceans
  Are gathered in
The same imaginary net.
  Over the map
The portioned air, at times but
  A pure, cloudless
Canopy of artificial calm.
  Lacking the haze,
The blurred edges that surround our world,
  The map draws
Only on itself, outlines its own
  Dimensions, and waits,
As only a thing completed can,
  To be replaced
By a later version of itself.
  Wanting the presence
Of a changing space, my attention turns
  To the world beyond
My window, where the map’s colors
  Fade into a vague
Afterimage and are lost
  In the variable scene
Of shapes accumulating. I see
  A group of fields
Tend slowly inland from the breaking
  Of the fluted sea,
Blackwing and herring gulls, relaxed
  On the air’s currents,
Glide out of sight, and trees,
  Cold as stone
In the gray light of this coastal evening,
  Grow gradually
Out of focus. From the still
  Center of my eyes,
Encompassing in the end nothing
  But their own darkness,
The world spins out of reach, And yet,
  Because nothing
Happens where definition is
  Its own excuse
For being, the map as it was:
  A diagram
Of how the world might look could we
  Maintain a lasting
Perfect distance from what is.

— Mark Strand

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


Funny how some posts, some poems I post, are more resonant than others. It’s odd or interesting or curious to me that often the choices are very nearly random; I feel the post needs a poem and I root around in my paltry West Coast poetry library and see if anything nearly fits the mood of the post or anything I might have mentioned.

Such was the case with the Mark Strand selection. One friend reposted it on her FB feed. Another wrote me a sweet note:

Dear Sally Anne,

Your last bit reminds me of a thought from one of my teachers, paraphrased;
“the measure of our pain is the distance between where we think we should be and where we think we are.”
The solution is implied in the statement.
Love, J

So that thought has been with me all day, as it is certain the path my thoughts are on quite a bit of the time. (I seem to be in slight remission today.) Not sure how one keeps the distance short. As I understand it, lots of good hearts and minds are working on that problem.

Mom went for an MRI today, to make sure none of her dizziness and "interesting lights" in her head were indications of a stroke. Trying to find a female doctor of geriatric medicine on this side of LA is also challenging. Making medical appointments, researching doctors, are frustrating and slow processes. Her new GP thinks she should get a second opinion on her bad hip as well. 

David, my co-gardener, came over to dig up the dying purslane and to clean out an area for a new little bed so that I could get my Fall crops going. I will likely miss their glory as I will be in New York in October but still ... Blue Lake string beans, more tomatoes, another cucumber, more lima beans, and more peppers. The garden looks a bit more bare now, but at least I can see where I need to deadhead and replant. I will try to get some photos tomorrow. By the time I finished tonight, I was gardening in the dark.

So, I will leave you with another Mark Strand. It's interesting to see how rough his early works are. This one was first published in 1964.


It will be strange
Knowing at last it couldn't go on forever,
That certain voice telling us over and over
That nothing would change.

And remembering too,
Because by then it will all be done with, the way
Things were, and how we had wasted time as though
There was nothing to do,

When, in a flash
The weather turned, and the lofty air became
Unbearably heavy, the wind strikingly dumb
And our cities like ash,

And knowing also,
What we never suspected, that it was something like summer
At its most august except that the nights were warmer
And the clouds seemed to glow,

And even then,
Because we will not have changed much, wondering what
Will become of things, and who will be left to do it
All over again,

And somehow trying,
But still unable, to know just what it was
That went so completely wrong, or why it is
We are dying.

— Mark Strand, Selected Poems, Knopf, 1990

This was likely a response to the Cold War and the nukes and all, but it sure feels like it fits in our global warming and the wingnut conservative jihad today.