Saturday, July 31, 2010

July 30, 2010

Hot mornings, hot with the heat left over from the torrid evenings. I keep the garden watered, and it doesn’t look like it suffers too much. The swamp hibiscus are the spectacular blooms now. A few days before I left for England, the joy was that big blacksnake curving into my yard. Yesterday evening, it was a garter snake as long as my arm, imperfectly hidden under the anemones. What joy it gave me to see him there! I wanted to touch him, but he was having none of that, and whipped away into the rocks. Met DT for drinks. He’s here at a science education convention, giving us a chance to see each other more than we have for many years. It’s a little hard to get him off the subject of Hiram, but that’s because he loves it so much and the present President has done so much to destroy it. Obsession is therefor understandable. President Chema is one of those people who haven’t noticed that corporate power structure has failed even the corporations, one of those people who actually holds as an unexamined article of faith that the “bottom line” is the significant thing, that if the checkbook balances the deed has been accomplished--who congratulates himself that he has replaced a diamond with a shard of glass and thereby kept costs down. Took 150 years to build the school and ten to destroy it. It is a sad thing. Of course, the last flourish is the Hiram administration’s insistence on taking, like Chinese Communism, correction for disloyalty. Sad, and sad. It was a beautiful place. But I tell DT that the sadder thing would be to let anguish over it destroy his life as well, seeing that his efforts at correction have not been welcomed, nor have they availed. I’m all for being the lone rebel, but not when that takes humanity away. “Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart,” says Yeats. Drinks at Sazerac, then we sat in the moonlight before the Jackson Building and chit-chatted in my sweet city.
July 28, 2010

A summer thunderstorm has just swept through, cleaning the air and brimming the birdbaths. I have been home for just one week, at midnight this morning. It seems longer than that. It seems an entire season.

Monday, July 26, 2010

July 25, 2010

Mother’s birthday, deep dark before morning, one bird in the weeds chirping hopefully. Listening to “Gaude Flore Virginale” from the Eton Choirbook, oddly right for a dark summer morning, already hot, or still hot from the day before.

I think of conversations I heard around me while we waited in perplexity and rising fury for our flight to Asheville, still only five days ago. A member of the sewer board was on the phone the while with colleagues in city government, talking about meetings, scheduling or rescheduling meetings, gossiping about meetings, providing a fascinating glimpse into the workings of city government, where items such as with where the mayor sits at a meeting are read as though they were the guts of sacrifice. Another city official later appeared in the flesh, and the two men talked with each other–often while still also on their phones. Terry Bellamy was the topic much of the time, her capriciousness and her–to them–mad unconcern with proportion and procedure, offering a buy-out of the airport at one point, which left her colleagues gaping at its randomness and probable illegality. The second official quoted someone as saying she was the most frustrating city official he had ever worked with. Me, I suddenly saw her in color and three dimensions, and however frustrating she was for them, I was interested in city government in a way I had not been before.

US Air responded to my bitching with a gift certificate. All right then.

Meeting last night at the Charlotte Street Pub with MA, who is looking fulfilled and happy. It was a wonderful evening, our conversation ranging through books and art and poetry, deeper and wider than I have been able to delve in conversation in a long time. What they say about common interests being sometimes vital is true, after all, and a lesson for one who often has his most intimate relations with people with whom he has nothing at all in common, except that. MA has begun sending me poems which are sensationally good, with a a voice unique and authoritative from the first line. The people around us sometimes broke into our conversation, it was that good.

Have been writing almost heroically, stopping only when knocked out by the heat. Why I never thought of getting a cheap fan for this rom until this second I don’t know. Guess I felt suffering was part of the admonition.

Chat with BB, who has finished another book of angry political philosophy. Something in his presentation allows people to ignore how systematic he is.

Friday, July 23, 2010

July 22, 2010

Dark of the morning, though a little later than yesterday. Rose at 3 then, at 4:30 today, easing my way back toward North American time. Distant singing of birds.

The cats snuggle and nuzzle, renewing acquaintance after all those weeks.

The moonflowers and the angel’s trumpets, for which I feared, sailed through the drought, the latter now blooming ostentatiously. The biggest weeds were the result of misidentification on my part. A ragweed five feet tall prospered because I thought it was a marigold. A whole plantation of white sweet clover grew up because I thought the seedlings were those of my lovely wild indigo.

10:am, and I’m already on my 3rd T-shirt. Since rising this morning I prepared and delivered the manuscript of The Falls of the Wyona to an agent in Rockefeller Center, chatted with the homeless boy sleeping in his dreadlocks in the Lit Dept lobby, worked out at the Y, had a fit of fury at various ignoramuses reading Michael Furey, weeded about 300 square feet of garden, including the sudden Everglades on the devil strip at roadside, watered said garden, restored the birdbaths, cleaned up cat vomit, showered.
July 21, 2010

US Air made sure the last leg of the flight from Dublin was drawn out unnecessarily, compounding incompetence with dishonesty. I could have driven home from Charlotte four times in the time I spent hearing the evolving fib about what had happened to our plane. But, home I am. It is fiercely hot, in the absolute sense, but certainly compared to a place where I never went out without a jacket. Arrived at midnight, did laundry, paid bills, lay down but couldn’t sleep, was up again at 3:30. It is still before noon, and I’ve had a full day. When I got home I was literally sick with exhaustion; maybe this wakeful restlessness is still a symptom of it. Coffee with Tom. Gave August his Union Jack t-shirt. Filled the hummingbird feeders. Glanced at the garden, to see it is not beyond repair. The moonflowers, in fact, seem to have become quite predatory. Plowed through the mail, no disasters, only one bill that will be late, some good news from agents. I get an astonishing number of catalogues.

First purchase on the ground in Philadelphia?: iced tea.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dublin 6

July 19, 2010

Rain outside my window. On the last day of the journey I may finally be using my canary yellow raincoat, which looks like it belongs to a 6 year old and takes up the most space in my suitcase.

Drank at the Shakespeare around the corner, which is owned by Koreans, has a fascinating Korean-Old Ireland decor, and reminded me constantly of Katherine Min’s proposition that the Koreans are the Irish of Asia. In some inexplicable way, the Shakespeare, with videos of a Korean kid playing the guitar, had the sweetest ambience of all pubs I’ve visited. Did nothing particularly Irish with my evening. Entered the Savoy to see a fil-em, as the Irish say, Get Him to the Greek, a surprise on many levels, being sweet and truly funny, and revealing that Russell Brand can really act, and Jonah. . . well, that fat guy . . . is for all the appearances against him, a movie star. I mean to see Loretto today, or at least her gallery, and to eat nothing that will make me sick on the journey tomorrow. Modest goals, I think, and easily met.

The banisters on which one must support oneself dragging up and down three storeys in the air are, one notes, in several places worn almost through. Read Keats’ reminiscence of his journey to Ulster, and it was mostly about squalor, though he did remark that the presbyterian squalor of Scotland was more soul-destroying than the Catholic squalor of Ireland. What will it take to bring Ireland dependable prosperity? Dublin is shabbier, poorer, barer, emptier than it was ten years ago.

Left at the interval a production of The Death of a Salesman at the Gate. It was a fine production, and I do not dispute that it is a great play (though possibly not at great as all that), but I find it impossible to watch. It is too hopeless, too foreordained. Pity does not moderate my contempt for Willy Loman, and I think the play expects that it should. Besides, the old couple in front of me would not stop digging around in a bag of candy. Instead, I walked a final time the streets of Dublin, down Henry to Jervis–the Spike behind me like God behind the Israelites-- and then to the river. It may have been the most beautiful evening I have ever seen in Dublin. The rain had passed, and the pale sky was thickened by clouds that seemed either to be pink or deep powder blue. A rosy gold radiance suffused everything, and the top of the buildings were scarlet and gold from the sun that had dropped under the clouds. Away in the south, over Parliament Street, a great rainbow burned with many colored fire. As I watched, that rainbow paled and another ignited farther east, toward the sea. A moon waxing past half appeared huge, details of light and dark blindingly etched, over the Temple bar. Crossing O’Connell Bridge, I laughed, for I had been growing all tragic and sad at the fading beauty, until I said to myself, “Weren’t you planning to come back in September anyway?” Stopped at Madigan’s for a drink, where a miracle happened: the good giant of a bartender remembered what I ordered, and brought it to me before I opened my mouth. I felt the conqueror.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Dublin 5

July 18, 2010

Service at St. Patrick’s this morning, the choir of Worcester College, Oxford in residence. They were exquisite. They sang Byrd’s “Ave Verum Corpus” from somewhere back in the ambulatory, and the effect was at once sublime and disturbing, as if one were a sort of inferior spirit in heaven, and could hear the angel choir only from a distance. The sermon, by the parish Treasurer, was a defense of Martha against Mary, in despite of Christ’s own rather unambiguous words. Must have addressed some local political issue we knew not of. I lingered in Temple Bar so as to go to Evensong at either St. Patrick’s or Christ Church, but as I was listening to the singer at Temple Bar pub, I fancied I was becoming ill, and hurried back to the Charles Stewart. I was not ill at all– in fact, something made the whole journey back hilarious to me, and I laughed at secret jokes most of the way. Something preferred that I didn’t go to Evensong.

During the service the simple thing I believe out of the complexities of Christianity became clear to me as it had not before, clear, rational, true to true emotion, convinced and convincing. I have run afoul of the world when I sought to write such a thing down before, but I will try again.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Dublin 4

July 17, 2010

Continuing my reading of Keats’ letters. He exhibits Pound’s theory of Vorticism he century before it was propounded, for his brilliant observations arise from a whirling mass of private jokes, unintelligible allusions, contemporary literary gossip, like beams of moonlight shot out of roiling cloud. When he is revising a poem such as Endymion, he does not tinker with the wording and structure-- as we were taught to do and as we, alas, teach our students– but he awaits a new vision, and writes again, inspired by more perfect understanding.

Last night it was galumphing Russian warhorses by the RTE National Orchestra at the National Concert Hall. The lively and Danny Kaye-resembling conductor danced around on the podium. The Tchaikovsky 1st Piano Concerto was not well played, and even I could hear the wrong notes from the piano, but I did find myself listening to the argument of the music, to the interior narrative, in a way that is by no means inevitable at a concert. Moussorgsky, Glinka, Khachaturian filled out the rest. I was sitting quite near the cellos, and so noted cello technique as I never had before. The woman to my left lived in Holland for many years, then moved to Florida where her husband started a business, but promptly died, so she is back on home sod. Someone’s necklace broke, and I gave the woman the beads I had gathered up, as she is starting a beading class next week and wanted them. The woman to my right was a chatterbox. As I headed back to town along St. Stephen’s Green, the fat curve of the moon hung bright above the trees.

What a lucky thing to be a tree in St. Stephan’s Green.

Stopped at the George, which was livelier than it was the last time I was there. I was made to feel attractive. At length I settled down with a man I’m going to call Gary, because I forget or never heard his name, and Gary suits him in some way. Gary had that way I’ve never seen from an American of approaching one with small insults and childish abuses, an adversarial courtship that– what?– establishes dominance, prepares for the possibility of rejection-- I really never have quite figured it out. Once I tired of it and told him to go away, he changed, and what was really a touching neediness shone through, and won me for the night. Gary’s family was very rich once, and is not any more, and that seems to lie heavy on his heart, even to define things far more personal than finance. His accent is English. His appearance is like a rather over-serious Talmudic scholar, without the beard, sharp and concentrated. He didn’t interest me physically, until he did. I think I was a little cool at first, maybe cruel, because I really wasn’t interested. He assumed that was part of a battle plan on my part, and went on trying. In the event, he was a magic mirror of affection, taking anything that was offered, giving back the identical thing in what he hoped was a higher tone. The dramatist in me wants to say “and was never filled,” but how would I know if that were true or not? There was no conversation at the end, only my parting by moonlight, making my way in the small of the morning through a Temple Bar still alive with laughter, the Dublin I had known and loved of old.

I know there will be a last time this will happen, a last time I am wanted, or want to be wanted. My guess is it will be in Ireland. But not this time.

Night: Saw a powerful production of Oedipus at the Project Arts. Jocasta was magnificent. The poetry had such ancient grandeur that it seemed almost alien, though the psychological issues are fresh as tomorrow. Jocasta in particular seems a modern woman, until the ghosts catch up with her. Had a few in the Octagon Bar in the Clarence, then made my way home through the mirth of the Temple Bar. I couldn’t go further tonight. I don’t want to see Gary again, and the weariness of starting over socially each night is the toll paid by the outsider.

Gary said, “You must have a lot of experience with drugs, being American.
“None? You never take drugs?”
“Well, there are whole categories of human experience you’ll never know about. That could be bad for a writer.”

Dublin 3

July 16, 2010

Have forgotten to mention the blue goose on the Thames. She stood beside a sleeping woman on the embankment beside the Globe, and I thought at first she was the woman’s pet. But when the woman left, she was still there, grave, approachable, a little spooky in her calmness. I touched her bill and her head and sat down beside her. It was like sitting down beside a human presence. I regretted going in when the bell began to ring for the play. I worried for her going home that night on the bright streets, wondering whether she were lost or hurt, or perhaps just curious, standing and watching the human flock as we might hers.

Didn’t mention the two boys on the Newgrange trip who were so clearly lovers that the fact that they looked like brothers was a little confusing. One feared for his health in the rain, so they didn’t go to the tomb, but sat in the pavilion talking with each other, drinking out of the same water bottle, exactly where they wanted to be. There was no other world but the space around themselves.

Walked part of the museum circuit, from the Hugh Lane on to the Chester Beatty. Wanted to own a Yeats. Wanted to own a Corot. Exquisite Mogul manuscripts at the Beatty, full of detail and love of a forbidden world. Watched the filming of a piece on the stained glass in the Hugh Lane, after overhearing the planning of it in the café across the street. Ireland is small and poor, and the arts work on approximately the same level we work on in Asheville. Their achievement rate is far higher, though, and whatever notes can be taken on that should be taken.

Still a little feverish, and slept the afternoon.

Jacket still damp from yesterday.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Dublin 2

July 15, 2010

The gulls cry whenever there is light, and ghost over the city, pale and portentous, when there is not. Took to the streets. Stuart is gone from O’Neill’s, but the staff continues merry and friendly. Went to Pravda and watched a wonderful French film, about munitions dealers and a man with a bullet in his head, in honor of Bastille Day. A while at the Corner Bar on Parliament Street, but it was somehow awful. I have one beautiful memory from there, but repeated awfulness detracts from it visit by visit. Despite my hatred of tours, I booked one for today, I suppose because in all these visits I have never been to Newgrange. The weather looks exactly terrible for such an outing. Why they hung a mirror directly in front of the desk I don’t know. I need a haircut.

Evening. I’ve stayed in, trying to warm up after a day in the driving rain. Patrick the merry blond bus driver (who turned out not to be our driver after all) chatted copiously between the tourist office and Busaras. I learned, among other things, the reason for something I had often observed myself: the difference between Irish police and American. There are actually no police in Ireland. They are officially the Garda Sochiana, the guardians of the peace, and they take that difference seriously. The garda keep the peace. They do not necessarily arrest for the breaking of particular laws. So, Patrick says, always negotiate with the Garda. Apologize and promise to be good, and they won’t bother with you. Peace is what counts, not convictions stats. “You, being an American, they won’t be able to stand the paperwork. They’ll say ‘just don’t shoot anybody else,’ and let you go.” John eventually drove us to the Hill of Tara. Nick and I had been there fifteen years ago, but it was before the season and we pretty much roamed around on our own. I had done research, and was right about what was what, but the tour and the video in the church showed me how complicated and sacred the place really had been: the emblem of a race and thousands of years of history. Unfortunately, the Irish weather intervened as we stood on the sacred heights, wind and driving rain, from which neither we nor the day recovered. Our guide was still talking when we broke and ran for cover. John said, “I have to admit, I never saw rain like that.” My theory is this: I was about to touch the Stone of Destiny, and it was about to cry my name three times and proclaim me the High King of Ireland, but the gods didn’t want the upheaval right now, and sent the deluge to postpone the revelation. Next time. Saw the castle at Trim and a variety of ruined abbeys, and then another of the world’s most sacred places, Bru na Boinne. First it must be said that the Boyne is the most beautiful of rivers. It surrounds its valley in three sides, making an island in old days when to cross even the Boyne’s gentle expanse was a peril. Lovely and lyrical now, knee deep in grass and overhanging trees. Newgrange– well, I need to see it another time. I was cold and miserable, and afraid of becoming sick, and the cold water squished in my shoes as I walked, and I went heedless into the marvelous place, photographing it in my mind to think on later. Did become quite sick from the hurried and doughy lunch, and the thought occurred to me that I would be the first one to throw up inside new Grange (one supposes) in five thousand years. Averted that, and made it to the parking lot, where of it all the pouring rain left not a trace.

Dublin 1

July 14, 2010

Charles Stewart B&B, Parnell Square, in exactly the same room they gave me the last time I was here, at year’s end a few years back. I think I was imagining this room when I booked, for I remember thinking good thoughts and writing well in it. Whatever about the room, the rest of the place has declined a little. The courtly, old-style gentleman who knew literature and carried one’s bag has been replaced by the ubiquitous Eastern European girl, who is on a cigarette break when one arrives. All Dublin is a little threadbare. Most of O’Connell Street is vacant store fronts. The roof on the shed in the courtyard below still bristles with lost balls, maybe the same ones. Walked, shopped, bought tickets, though compared to London (or even compared to Dublin a few years back) the pickings are slim.

Went to The Flowing Tide to waste time until my room was ready. There is a very old clock on the wall, and when I looked at it and noted the right time, I thought, “Is this antique working, or did I happen to look at a stopped clock at exactly the moment it could be right?”

It took 15 minutes to get to the London City Airport from Crawford Passage, so there was another wasted bout of anxiety. My Pakistani driver with the very posh accent was hugely informative about the parts of London we were passing through, about which quays received which goods in days of yore and the like. Passed a bit of the ancient London wall. I asked whom it was built to keep out. He said, “The French, Napoleon and all that.”

Overheard in the airport: “Have you noticed how the handsome boys always sit together?”

“Of course. Handsome boys like handsome boys just like everybody else.”

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Goodbye London

July 13, 2010

Din in the courtyard of a family leaving. Much shouting of instructions and reminders, a little girl bawling, repeatedly, unanswered, “Nana, I want to go in the taxi with you!”

Jeff and I went to the Wigmore recital hall to hear a group sing Spanish a capella music of the Renaissance, in a program called “The Golden Age.” It was beyond magnificent. I had the rare experience of more than listening to the music, praying to it, sure that its ecstatic curve would bear my words into the sky. This must have happened at church, but I don’t remember it in a concert hall before. I wish I had written of this last night, when the emotion was fresh in my heart.

Our first rainy morning, more a mist than a rain.

Did a measure of wandering, to the Curved Angel for coffee, through town, across Waterloo Bridge to the Queen’s Walk, where I took in the sights of a misty morning. A great and good city lay spread out before me on the far side of a green, turbulent river. Without the bridges it could have been the far side of the world. Sat on the National Theater terrace and wrote a play. We gathered at the Globe to see Henry VIII, which somewhat to my surprise was wondrous and moving. Each time I come to the Globe the more convinced I am it is the ideal Shakespearian setting–as if that should be a surprise. Tara was amazed that the “real” Globe had been in London, indeed on that very spot. Much complaining about being tired or uncomfortable or not being able to understand the “language,” but I think somewhere within they got it. Final supper together at a waterside restaurant nearby. I left early and made a rather melancholy way back through the city, overcome with brutal and unexpected grief. Grief at parting. I will miss them. I didn’t expect to miss them. I missed them even before we were parted. My unborn daughters haunted me with a sharpness I do not believe I fully deserved.

But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not,
I’ll softly rise and gently call
Goodnight, and joy be with ye all.

London again. . . .

July 12, 2010

Children shouting in three languages in the courtyard. “Mama!” means the same in all of them.

Had my first guided tour of the Abbey this morning. Informative, but a trial by the multitudes who were also there on this fine summer day. Prefer wandering through on my own in the cold of autumn when no one else ventures forth.

Keats says we should not dispute or assert, but only whisper results.

I think the same of Westminster Abbey as I did of St. Paul’s– haul all that old warrior crap out and make it a temple of the arts of peace. Leave the sad dead kings in their moldering stones.

The pain in my legs is dull and leaden after a day in the K race, but they heal up after a rest, so I suppose all is well.

London is not working for me this time out. I know it is all circumstantial, and the next time will be glory again. Like the students, I’m gritting my teeth and getting through it. It’s a shame though. This fair city deserves my best heart all the time.

Monday, July 12, 2010

London again #2

July 11, 2010

It must be said that Clerkenwell is a most wonderful section of London. It irritated me last night, because it was distant from what I wanted to see, and I was not feeling well, but when I rose and walked this morning, I found the most delightful mazes of streets and stately–or whimsical–brick structures–very much the London tourists come to see, but don’t know how to find. Had cappuccino at the Angel Curve café, which I found as if led by spirits. There under the spire of Saint James Clerkenwell I wrote and wrote, and watched runners in red shirts with numbers pinned on, some of whom carried water bottles or were talking on cell phones, and waited for the rain which thinned by the hour in to the most imperial blue sky. I think I could live in Clerkenwell, though I might never stay here on vacation. It is a place one lives and thanks one’s lucky star. Even this odd hive in which we’re staying has a curious beauty about it, and last night was dead still, compared to the almost continuous din of Lucy Cavendish. Across from the Angel Curve is the Three Kings pub. Its three kings are Henry VIII, King Kong, and Elvis. My room looks down into a complicated courtyard, and one can mind any number of people’s business through the ranks of windows, if one has a mind.

Tate Modern Today– very little changed from when I breezed through in November, except that the great turbine room is empty. Tried to get my students to do some performance art there, but nobody took the hint. Watched the World Cup finals in the Duke of York. They seemed hapt when Spain won. Prince Wilhelm looked sad. Before he looked sad he looked almost inhumanly healthy.

Group activities have never been my joy. That opinion is not changed by my being the head of them. London at the end was a mistake, for we are all marking time. But I had joy this morning, which I remember in a poem, if I ever get it transcribed. What I meant to write tonight got sucked away in the struggle to get on the Internet, where there were no personal messages anyway. Almost never are.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

London again, #1

July 10, 2010

We’re spread out in a warren of apartments on Crawford Passage, in Clerkenwell, a part of London unfamiliar to me. We ended our stay in Cambridge with a loud, happy night at the Boathouse, where we were as nearly candid about ourselves as this group is going to be. The area was infested with spiders. I think our experience here was imperfect, but rich enough. Steve lifts it to another level for me, and perhaps others had the same, but did not speak of it to me. Crawford Passage’s isolation is exacerbated by the fact that the Circle Line is closed on weekends for repairs, making even the walk to a tube ruinous. I did gather myself to walk from here to the Trafalgar Studio to see Wolf Boy. Ate in the Lord Luna–very atmospheric– where I aided an American couple in their travels. They promised to come see The Loves of Mr. Lincoln when it opens in New York They seemed to count me as part of their tourist experience, as though I had been planted in the Lor Luna for them to discover–as, perhaps I had been. Wolf Boy, a musical, had a promising beginning, but settled for effect rather than exploring truth. I was glad I saw it, but my guess is that it will not have another production. There is too much wrong with it, and if the subject of redemptive lycanthropy is to be explored, it’s not by this work. Great crowds through Trafalgar and Covent Garden. I looked my fill, and was happy.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Cambridge XXII

July 9, 2010

Complicated, vivid dream before waking. I was pretty much who I am, except living in an elaborate circus tent in Akron. School officials came to me and asked if I would mentor a kid who was promising and troubled. I said I would. They sent two boys. When they arrived it was winter and snow was blowing, but very quickly it was spring. The boys had an aptitude for theater–so advanced that I wondered that the school had mis-diagnosed it so egregiously as behavioral problems. When I’d worked with the boys for a while, we went back to Hyre Junior High to have a look at the theater program there. It was, at best, ad hoc when I was a student, but it had turned into a gigantic undertaking with several full time and very self-delighted faculty. I perceived at once that the boys had not been underachievers, but had run afoul of their teachers by being too advanced and therefore insulting to their vanity. At the very end, one of the boys was sharing a new candy with me, that you extruded from the barrel of a toy gun. At first taste I was delighted, for it was the candy lipstick we knew so well in those vanished days.

I think this dream was, impurely and at some remove, about Steve, who claimed I had reawakened a dream for him, the dream of being a writer. He has a mystical novel he thinks he can finish by September. He gave me a poem he’d written, and in large it isn’t bad at all. I am so grateful for this relationship. It is a steel nail holding together an experience which otherwise is airy indeed.

The waitress in the Café Rouge is, in the daytime, a painter of horses. She had been to Carbondale, where there is an artist she admires.

Exams have been taken, and the students prepare for the next leg of their journey, corporate removal to London. We go out tonight and celebrate as a group– something, whatever each of them has to celebrate. My lap top is rendered almost unusable by incessant ACTIVE UPDATE reminders from AOL. They had been there before, but after these many days they become an extended and unquenchable dread. I suppose I could accept the update, but my suspicion is that warning of the next one would appear within the instant. I hate them with the inner fiber of my being.

Valedictories? I didn’t teach as well as I ought, but probably about as well as they could stand. I didn’t go to Evensong as often as I thought I would, but JK had carved that territory out and I did not trespass. I got much more from Cambridge than I had before, and incorporated the experience fully into my imaginative life, which I did not do ten years ago. Forty years ago made I peace with at last. Steve was a gift. London was a gift. The poets play was a gift. Some of the students were gifts, but their impulse from the first was to build a clear divide between us and them, which was probably well. I am more exhausted than likely even I understand. I will probably be inert in Dublin.

Steve sends a poem in response to last night’s show. Transparency is not its signal characteristic, so it gives me a chance to delve and interpret. But he was glad to be there. He yearns for something other than the company he keeps. I know suddenly why I am so–I thought unaccountably-- sad. Leaving him. Anyone adept at the intricacies of love would look at me and shake his head.

Someone is playing the piano in the little pavilion in the garden.
That Night in the Pickerel

That such would come to me in the Pickerel,
amid the footballers and the undergraduates,
never crossed my mind.

But listen, here’s a lesson:
they who are not wanting, get;
they who are not seeking, find.

Complex and whispering, like those poems
I love so well, a man after my own heart,
I would say, if I knew what to my own heart

came after, or before, or any way at all.
But I know the catch in my throat at leaving
is all you–some hours together, then apart.

The “apart” is what tells you how long time is.
Time for faces to fade to some conventional beauty,
voices to take on memory’s demeaning trill.

Let night be no more bewildered, friend, than I.
Time is not that wide, nor the sea that deep.
I have said that I will be for you. I will.

The iced mocha I had here yesterday
was paradise, sweetness into bitter
into coolness curled.

The iced mocha I have today is almost
nasty. Why do people even try
an explanation of the world?
On a Show of Contemporary
Wave Paintings in the Fitzwilliam

The painter of these accomplished seascapes
put streaks, smears, dots, hints of red
into her troubled surface,
to imply a limit, a mingling of forces
so that what we see
is not a pure ferocity.

Unlike the real storm, it must be said,
in which no red
relieves the black and the cold blue
and the green and leprous white,
and the mortal grays unknown of men–
and the black, which bears listing yet again.

Which is why the turbulence of which your playful colors sing
is worse than what you paint, or feared, or anything.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cambridge XXI

July 8, 2010

A squirrel grooms himself on the corner of the balcony visible from my window.

After night rain, the bricks and walls are patrolled by snails, some of them vast, their shells goblets from which their liquid bodies spilled..

My students did their arts presentations tonight, and they were wonderful– poems and collages, music, a fantastically good video. Steve accepted my invitation to come hear it, and I think he was delighted. I wanted the students to bring a dozen townspeople, but Steve was the only one who came. It made me happy. They made me happy. He made me happy. I thought he was God’s gift to me, but he said I was to him, and that seemed better, somehow. Walked a little in the bright night streets, until the tiny rain began to rain.

At least three of these students will never see the inside of a classroom. I feel they must know it, but intend to cling as long as they can, so whatever happens they cannot be accused of being quitters. Some are so fantastically unsuited for it–whatever virtues they have otherwise–that I can’t believe nobody has noted it before. Some, of course, will be perfect.

I have slept more hours here than I ever have anywhere, though the quality of the sleep has been wanting, light and agitated. It was not so in London. Let’s see what happens in Dublin. Tonight, though, I am perfectly content. Let’s see what difference that makes.
Crossing Jesus Green

There will not be room for everything.

There will not be room in this life for everything.

There will not be room even to catalog
what there wasn’t room for.

Thank Christ
for envy cut off by the saving
incapacity of imagination,
for “I wish” abbreviated by the
airport timetable, by the drive to work,
by the phone playing its tinny tune, so
irksome you can’t believe you chose it for yourself.

I’m thinking of those people who spent their time,
like me, remembering what was better left behind.
Wordsworth, you piker, gloomy with privilege
at Saint John’s, you waited five years
to get to the guts of Tintern Abbey. Well, son,
it’s been forty since I first crossed Jesus Green
in blue cold under that poetic and unpitying starlight,
which I remember, as one should, as though
it were the scalding moment of this moment,
not in tranquility, not with well proportioned music,
but sharp and harsh and still refusing to come to terms,

ready to admit–at last-- I want to be them,
all of them who had to split and rejoin
with a sigh to get around me in Jesus Green
that night under the bare lime trees,
chatting about French poetry in French,
poling down the river with girls and boys
each prettier, airier than the last–
never mind that green ditch of the Cam
hardly matters beside Ohio, Missouri,
even the stone-troubled, modest and
bear-drunk-from French Broad, my river now,
so oddly unsung. I want to be them
with their ivory skin from generations
of mirthful and half-conscious inbreeding,
the blue blood and the purple and the almost red
stalled in their pools under the dented coronets–
the diagnostic flop of glossy hair,
the vaguely aureate mist, as though
Rupert Brooke, upon death, sublimed into the air
and was distributed unequally
but with an open hand
on all that came behind,

(–me with my umbrella and my two shirts,
fending it off until it’s too late--)

Oh, I want to talk of Schopenhauer
and really give a fuck,
to be able to pronounce “Keynes” and “Lytton”
and “Cholmondeley” without thinking twice,
citing dates fluid as the names of lovers,
walking a little halt for the sake of one’s
six times great grandfather who took a bullet
for the queen God knows where and why,
a colossus in the Abbey testifying to it all.
I want to know how to narrow my lips
and clip the witty syllables when
the Master or the Arch-Deacon or
Whatever His Bleeding Lordship summons me to sherry.

I want to be able to say these things
without that defensive Midwestern irony
in my voice. . . the way you do, longing
and rejecting with one tune twisted on the tongue.

I want to say to my Dorothy from behind my hand,
“Steer clear of this. The effortless perfection of others
will only make you miserable. Take my example instead,
kicking the base of what I build,
lest it soar too high,
lest it leave too dizzyingly behind
that muck out of which it’s born.”

Oh, still, I beheld all sorrowing that first night how I
want to be that beautiful, to walk down the cobbles
with that strut, to halloo to my comrades
with such pulpit pitch of perfect music.

Oh God, this royal city, let it sink into the fen,
whence it came,
lifted on its stone piles,
lifted, and lifted, adding roses around for buoyancy,
adding roses around, and roses,
stretching its stone up to hitch onto the sky.
Even the Paving Stones of Cambridge

Even the paving stones have lain so long
they have a voice–repetitious, as one might expect,
but informative, and not otherwise what one anticipates.
Granite speaking sounds so like little birds
one looks a long time at the empty air.

This morning they are gossiping of the lords
who rode upon them, how they could tell,
through the horses’ hooves-- hesitant, distracted,
panicked under the bells and satins–
that all was not as it appeared.

Stones, however disguised, still unmistakably themselves,
pity this. They tell of the barons and viscounts
puking their guts into the gutters
after too much mirth, and being,
despite all their bravado, too young.

This explains, I think, the tinge of pink,
the rosy sub-glow in the solemn stone.
“Come,” they murmur to the drunken geniuses.
to the reeling captains of the time to come,
“unload, release, be purged. Trust those
who’ve seen the worst to understand.”
Conversation on Sussex Street

The man on Sussex Street blew smoke
from the side of his mouth,
in deference to her standing in front,
not a foot and an inch away.

They don’t look very intimate, the pair,
casual friends, perhaps acquaintances
with a common interest– the World Cup,
German lieder, the ugliness of Tories–

that led to the pavement colloquy–
vehement on her part, restrained on his,
as if in acknowledgment and apology
for so towering over her–

as the fine brown shops of Sussex Street
tower, and above them the things
named towers, which make
our hesitant way into the sky.

I imagine her in bitterer times to come
remembering the man who blew his
cigarette away from her when he might–
without blame–have ignored it all–

a moment she might recall for its
off-hand courtesy, lost, had someone
not been watching, a brevity compact
as carbon, such as that which under layers

of streets and towers and mismatched couples
inconsequentially chatting, and the bones,
becomes, by some magic infinitely understated,
diamond, saving, easy to overlook, enduring.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cambridge XX

July 7, 2010

Sat in the County Arms last night watching the World Cup with 15 or so Uruguayan girls and their counselor. They’d brought their cheery national flags and wrapped themselves in them, and kissed their hems for luck. Whatever else might have happened, I was pro-Uruguayan that night. They lived and died with each maneuver. Most of their comments were in Spanish, but they are here to learn English, presumably, and one girl spoke in English, with hilarious solemnity, phrases such as, “Dirty one!” and “Go have a shower!” Of course, Uruguay was mowed down by Holland, leaving me 0-3 in terms of teams I’d rooted for. The girls took the final results without comment, snapping pictures of each other in the street outside the pub. The girl I met in the bar of the Russell was Dutch, and I thought of her at the end, how happy she might be.

My anniversary. 34 years.

Evening. Looking back on an abundant day. I wrote in the morning– spectacularly, in terms of volume and hopeful starts. In the afternoon I gave my students Shakespeare. The evening I spent with Steve. Steve O--, which I know now because he gave me the card for his cleaning service. He is a footballer, and practices on Tuesday nights. This not only explains his fitness, but his knowing elucidation of tonight’s World Cup game. The Pickerel was highly in favor of Spain, and Spain won, so I taste the spice of victory at last. Steve and I started out at the same level of inebriation–or perhaps I was a little ahead– so tonight’s conversation was more balanced, less curious, more like friendship and less like a scene from an independent movie. I had fears about my superficiality the other times, wondering if I would like him as much if he weren’t handsome. The answer was clear tonight–oh yes, yes I would. But he is handsome, and I take this little extravagance as God’s (overdue) blessing. Walked him to his bus stop, thinking I had lived my life here.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cambridge, Day XIX

July 6, 2010

To Norwich by train. I had my feelers out for vestiges of Lady Julian, but Norwich is no more mystical today than anywhere else. Hugely long cathedral, with the usual burden of history. From what remains, the paintings on walls and ceilings must have been sublime. Hate Henry VIII; hate the Puritans. Hysterical with exhaustion by the time we got to the castle, though I did wander happy/sad through the galleries dedicated to rocks stars of th 60's and 70's. I kept muttering, “that was THAT long ago?” Marianne Faithful and Keith Richards were beautiful once, too. Pompously mediocre paintings by a local family of painters, touted as being the equals of Constable (they ain’t). Stuffed animals in the dead zoo. The tiger, paled to a kind of beige, roars when you walk by. Ruff, petrel, heron, falcon, all softening under the dust of ages.

Disturbed that there have been so few poems, and a whole section of the poets play written but not typed. I am in survival mode, imaginatively speaking, striving to carry out my duties and remain pleasant and welcoming and professional. Not expecting anything creative until the mood changes and I’m in Dublin.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Cambridge onward

July 5, 2010

Tottered across Cambridge last night finding new places to have a drink, now that the undergrads are gone and some of the crush relieved. Encountered Matt and Marcela at the door of the Pickerel, and we all had too many drinks at the Castle. Matt told me more about his life than I had known, or even guessed, though the telling was difficult for him and the least thing (mostly M’s exuberant and repetitive autobiographical impulse) threw him off.

Collected the students’ journals and am reading them. That most of them did not affix their names doesn’t matter: for the most part they sound exactly like themselves. They certainly do mention food a lot. They think I’m kind. There are cliques and feuds and grudges among them that I had not sensed in the least. Everyone seems to hate the same person, who seems not to know.

Phoned Steve. See him Wednesday night.

My face in the mirror looks like a farmer’s from all the sun one expects not to see in Britain.

Got WCQS on the Internet. Sounded like home. I think part of my journey is finished, in all but fact. The window being pushed back and forth on its sill by the wind sounds like Titus mewing. It is very disturbing. Almost homesick-making.

Evening. Chatted with Joey at the County Arms, then went walking to see Kings’ under the blue linen sky. Cambridge is an experiment to see how people will live when their environment is beautiful– from every perspective, in every direction. Tonight the beauty turned to mirth, and wherever there were people on the twisted streets, there was laughter.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


July 4, 2010

Arrived in London with the whole gaggle. We threaded our way through the streets, Jeff pointing out famous houses with their blue plaques and all. Now at the British Museum, where I’m huddled with my cold blueberry tea, and I am, at last, happy. The students were on their own, and panic was general and understandable. The underground map which looks so clear to me must look like the Double Helix to someone perusing for the first time.

Got a satisfying room on the 7th floor of the Russell, handsome Enda having offered me an upgrade because my designated room was not ready. London Eye off in the distance, and the Imperial Hotel, the green dome of the BM floating above the trees. Grayish-whitish afternoon, as though one viewed the world from under a few inches of water. My desk is settled in a bay window with light coming in all sides, white gulls circling and crying. As soon as I touched the bed I napped such a nap, slept such a sleep as I’d not yet had in England. Something at Lucy Cavendish makes me restless and uncomfortable. I have no objective sense of what it could be. The physical lay-out of the place is creepy to me, but, again, how to put a finger on the exact nature of the creepiness? In any case, slept the last two weeks off, and was ready for action in a capital of the world.

I thought it was just the youth and activity of Cambridge, but in London I see the same thing, how fit and slim English people are compared to Americans. I can’t stop gawking at them, one fine body after another on the public streets. It is a shame for America.

Went to the Trafalgar Studio to see Holding the Man, adapted from a book by an Australian who died of AIDS, and sent over from a theater in Sydney. The coming-out-and-getting-AIDS trope is one with which I have had a troubled relationship. Almost all plays which touch centrally on either of these subjects are bad, and both would seem unsurvivable. But this one survives. The first act is lively and sweet, the second no more lachrymose than it needed to be. I’d say if one example of the genre should survive its moment, it could be this one. The audience was overwhelmingly male and clearly gay. In the second act a member of the audience passed out, and the play stopped while he was taken care of.

After the play and after a drink at the Silver Cross, there was still light in the sky.

Met Tommy from Roscommon at the edge of Russell Square just before midnight.


Complex of thread-y white clouds over the Centre Point Building. The east is a smear, like a dirty white veil.

Lingered and drank coffee and wrote in Covent Garden, where the air was heavy with the scent of the perfume shops.

Crossing Waterloo Bridge last night I was frantic to take everything in, to identify every done and fanciful tower, to remember every detail. Bought white shirts from a man who spends seven weeks every summer with his son in Chicago. He sold me 2 for 20 pounds to get rid of as many as he could.

Attended Terrence Rattigan’s After the Dance at the Lytellton last night. Thousands of happy people thronged the riverbank. There was a demonstration on the National Theater plaza by new graduates of a circus school. Despite obvious dissimilarities, After the Dance is quite like Hold the Man, in that it is the testament of a very specific population at a very specific time. The two share the peril of distance–even quaintness– when that time and those people are passed. The tragic element in both plays is the heedless determination to do exactly what one pleases without consideration of consequences. That there are such consequences has to do with a failure–or a grotesque hesitancy–of communication, which itself needs to be addressed in some play some time. They taffied it out into three acts with two intervals, which I suppose the structure demands. I remained interested, if not exactly riveted. Was David–the seductive, poisonous “hero”– Rattigan’s rather self-flattering , self-flagellation? I’m not sure I’ll rush to see another Rattigan soon, but I’m glad I saw this one. The melodrama was evident but not suffocating, the milieu of bright young things was high-pitched without being brittle. As an artifact of its times, it– like Hold the Man–deserves to survive to bear witness to those times. It was, anyway, far less irritating than Coward’s Present Laughter.

Saint Paul’s. my favorite interior space. Kings’ is great, but one feels one could laugh out loud in Saint Paul’s without too much transgression. Paid homage to the monuments of Donne and Blake and Philip Sidney. Ate my salt & vinegar crisps opposite the marble memorial to major general Sir William Ponsonry “who fell gloriously in the Battle of Waterloo on the 18th of June, 1815.” The nude general is well carved, but the conception of the stature is idiotic. How did the general get nude? How acquire that modest bit of classical drapery? Is the horse dead, or merely lying down to allow the big angel a landing strip? You’d think the last thing he needed at that moment was the laurel crown the angel is handing his direction. Were I somehow king or bishop or whatever you’d need to be, I’d have all the monuments to men of war removed from the cathedral. I understand the impulse of a grateful nation to erect marble colossi to the victims of obscure engagements in some war fought for some bad reason two hundred years ago, but how long should gratitude last? They are bad citizens for a church. Leave Blake, Donne, Wren, Landseer, leave Wellington and Nelson in their stone boxes in the basement, but sweep the rest clear, for light and space, for monuments to the men of peace and art.

Independence Day back home. Another brilliant morning, maybe the most brilliant of the lot. Left crisps on the windowsills for the gulls, but whether they got them or the wind did I don’t know. Yesterday was the second time I found myself in the midst of London Pride. I actually marched the last time, but this time I hung out on the periphery– still rich and strange, like combing the shore of some over-rich sea. Thousands gathered in Trafalgar. It was lovely.

Saw Love Never Dies, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s effort to keep the Phantom cash cow going. It wasn’t awful. It was capsized by the splendor of the special effects, which made explicit what would have been more tantalizing left implicit, which did not quite disguise the poverty of ideas, both narrative and musical. It could have been small and intimate and lovely. It substituted effect for content every time. But I did not leave at the interval, as I half expected to do. For one thing, my aisle seat surrounded by vacant chairs was too luxurious.

Wandered Covent Garden– feeling quite melancholy, actually–until it was time for the London Diversity Choir to give its concert in Saint Martin in the Fields. There were 20,000 gays on Trafalgar Square, and the choir–in one of the world’s most famous churches–had for audience no more than Cantaria in the Congregational Church in Asheville. I could have lived without the concluding Abba medley, but the concert was quite fulfilling, and the countertenor for the Chichester Psalms was paradisal.

London has always been easier for me than Dublin because I never suspected I would find my soul mate here.

To King’s Cross, to Cambridge--