Transformative New York

When I met him, he was not yet thirty-five, had one child, and his wife had been killed in a giant skyscraper two years before. He was disconcertingly young-looking: shorn hair, a boyish smile, a wily goofiness. I expected constant sadness, but he had somehow absorbed the blow, integrated it, and came out freshly laundered as a stronger man. His body was strong, six-two, tailored, strong straight shoulders, eyes straight ahead. He smiled easily.

I loved his stomach. I couldn’t stop touching it, marveling at the flat hardness, and his obliques — hard braids of muscle into his hips. Placing my palm over the flatness, I would let my fingers softly spread out over his hot golden skin, which was velvety soft. Such softness, to protect such strength. Sometimes I’d rub my cheeks against it, like a kitten, pressing soft kisses against the plush skin.

Later, when I was in DC, he would send emails saying we had to be together; if I wanted to move to New York, he would make it happen immediately.

I did go to New York. I went with him that summer to Nantucket, spending long days either on his boat or in the sofa in the living room, reading books with the windows open to the salty air. He would barbecue lobsters on the grill, pour wine, and we’d eat outside on the deck with the Atlantic shushing in the darkness.

He went back to work, and I returned to DC. I wasn’t sure what I was doing. He left me rattled. Some days I would be at my office on the Georgetown waterfront and just get up, lock the office, and wander along the Potomac, missing him. Memories, projections superimposing themselves over each other, until history and future and present was all one uncombable knot.

Some days he would simply show up. Usually this was at my apartment, around 11pm, having caught the last Delta shuttle from NYC. In his arms, damp and exhausted, all the worries vanished. It became clear what I was trying to do, what I wanted, how to get it. He offered it with an openness that tore at my heart. When he would leave on Monday morning, I would be moody and irritable. Nothing was okay when he was gone.

I finally went to New York. The first day he went to work, I was left to my own devices and an AmEx. I was home by three. He arrived home early, and I ran into his arms. “That was nice,” he said.

“What?”

“You being here when I got here.”

I didn’t leave for a long time. When I finally left the East Coast, he offered to come with me, but I said no. I said I had some things to do myself. I wept bitterly. I wanted him desperately to come with me, to protect me from the things I knew I would encounter. He wanted to protect me. But I shook my head, crying with the bitterness of it.

Distant, distant.

He was the light by which I read, the voice at the bottom of the stairs.

Looking back, the city flashes, a white flash, and is gone. But he remains. I shut my eyes, and there he is. Holding the mystery and the certainty, the trembling future in his outstretched hand.

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John Smith

Reading a magnificent old book this evening, called Prologue to New England: The Forgotten Century of the Explorers by Henry F. Howe (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1943) I found a magnificent quote from John Smith, the English explorer and first governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. In this letter he is speaking about the promise of a colonized New England:

Here are no hard Landlords to rack us with high rents, or extorted fines to consume us; no tedious pleas in law to consume us with their many years disputation for Justice. Here, every man may be master and owner of his own labor and land… If he have nothing but his hands, he may set up his trade; and by industry, grow quickly rich; spending but half that time well, which in England we abuse in idleness.

Positively rich! By modern comparison, it is almost Randian, with the optimism of industry. And I love the swipe at taxes. Behold, our forefathers were not meek Eurotrash! Some men already had the imbrications of the future America in their bones, to bequeath to those who wish to claim it.

Two More Sally Beauman Books

The Sally Beauman obsession continues apace. I’ve finished two more of her pre-Destiny Harlequin Presents, published under her pen name, Vanessa James. Both have the requisite young, innocent blond and the older, darker, wealthy man and a large gap of time when they are separated that would become her prototype.

The Devil’s Advocate was published in 1983.

Louisa and her sister Claudia, who has only two scenes in the book, live in a lovely cottage in London. Claudia has committed some (very) minor financial crime; she’s stolen £2,000 from her employer – an amount so tiny it is difficult to justify the rest of the book. Claudia asks her sister to find the money, to make things right with Claudia’s employer. Louisa swallows her pride and asks Julius Morrell for the money – a man she loved ten years ago. Their relationship abruptly ended, and Julius is very bitter when he sees Louisa on his doorstep. Julius is a wealthy barrister, a man who “both defends and prosecutes.”

He implies that if she sleeps with him, he will give her the money. She refuses. So he suggests that she marry him for the £2,000.

It will be a marriage of convenience. She will be well taken care of; he will allow her a generous allowance for her trifles. But there would be no sex (because if a man wants you to sleep with him for £2,000, the next best thing is marrying you and withholding sex). So Louisa agrees.

After a beautiful wedding they fly to Venice. Their moratorium on sex lasts one day. The day after their wedding, their love begins to bloom once more. The reader at this point still doesn’t know why they broke up ten years ago. After an idyl of several days, Julius’s brother, Kit, arrives, and attempts to rape Louisa. Julius walks in on the act and believes they are making love. We learn then that ten years ago, the exact same thing happened! Julius had walked in on Kit attempting to rape Louisa; he was so bitter from Louisa’s “betrayal” that he refused to speak to her for ten years.

Julius leaves her in Venice. Then he comes back and they make up and make love. I remember very little about the actual plot of this book, though I read it only last week. By the end of this, I was skipping pages. Her language is all there, but these were her practice books before Destiny and her gift for storytelling is not yet honed to perfection.

Chance Meetings, published in 1984, was next:

If possible, this one was even more ridiculous than Devil’s Advocate. It has a hysterical pitch that it quite unusual for Sally Beauman. But the story is about Caro, whose ancient family home, Trevalynes, is about to be auctioned off. Desperate to save her home, she goes in search of a rich man. She and her cousin Marian see two men in a Bentley and make a plan to catch and marry them. They are two cousins as well – Will and Francis. The courtship scenes seem to go on forever, and they are quite dull. Finally we learn that Francis is an architect famous throughout Europe and Will has come to the Cornish village to buy Trevalynes!

Naturally Caro is very cross that Francis so deceived her. Then they break up, Will buys the house, and I don’t know what happened after that because I skimmed the rest of the book.

These dreary little books are actually very heartening to read. I can see the author working her craft, building up to Destiny. They are excellent for education about Sally Beauman. They are rather poor books to read if one is looking for enjoyable romance.

Prosecutors Seek To Imprison Amanda Knox For Life

Unbelievably, an Italian prosecutor asked an appeals court in Perugia Saturday to increase American Amanda Knox’s sentence for killing her housemate to life imprisonment.

Prosecutor Giancarlo Costagliola also urged that Knox, 24, be given six months of solitary confinement, ABC News reported. Costagliola said Knox’s former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito should be sentenced to life with two months in solitary.

Knox was sentenced to 26 years and Sollecito to 25. They were found guilty of killing Meredith Kercher, a British student spending a year in Perugia, during a drug-fueled sex game while the two women were sharing a house in 2007.

Defense lawyers are to present their closing arguments next week, followed by a rebuttal.

Prosecutors also tried to discredit two court-appointed forensic experts who reviewed DNA evidence and found it wanting. Prosecutor Manuela Comodi said they are professors of forensic evidence rather than practicing investigators, The Guardian reported.

“Would you entrust the wedding reception of your only daughter to someone who knew all the recipes by heart but had never actually cooked?” Comodi said.

Ellora’s Cave Using Same Covers For Many Books

I was browsing some romances on Amazon, such as Saying Yes by Barbara Elsborg, and noticed that Ellora’s Cave is using the same cover for several books:

I’m curious about this – is it a mistake on Amazon? Or is Ellora’s Cave just in dire need of new cover photos?

1,000 Days

Pastabagel on Partial Objects has an analysis of Mark Rife, a man who counted down the last thousand days of his life. Mark’s wife Sarah was injured when she fell in a waterfall. She recovered, then six months later, she died in her sleep. One night while watching the Leo di Caprio version of Romeo & Juliet, she pondered the question, “If Romeo had waited a thousand days, would he still want to die?”

The question stuck with Mark after his wife’s death. He wanted to die from the grief, but because of his wife’s question, he vowed to live for 1,000 days trying to find meaning in his life. He blogged his venture though Tumblr has removed his blog.

He didn’t find the meaning he sought and ultimately killed himself. His brother’s response to his suicide can be found here. Other people have spoken out about it, and a lot of them say that if he’d kept his faith (he was a pastor) then he wouldn’t have killed himself.

Those people, to me, miss the entire point of his death. I’ll just leave it at that.

I think it was weird for him to document his last one thousand days, though I understand the compulsion. There have been times when it felt like I have nothing but the internet – the ringing vacant mass of people I don’t know but who read my words anyway. And they seem much easier to confess certain things to than anyone else. And there have been times there simply wasn’t anyone else.

I think Mark wanted to leave something of himself – that blog – because he wasn’t even sure he existed anymore. I think Mark was not the attention whore that some accuse him of being. I think he was in a great deal of pain, very confused, and he knew the outcome of his journey before he took the first step.

I have nothing but respect for a person who so chooses to live his life on his own terms.

No More Last Meals For Texas Death Row Inmates

Frankly, I’m not sure what to think of this new move to banish last meals for Texas death row inmates. According to the article:

Death-row inmates headed to their executions will no longer be able to pick what they’d like for their last meal.

Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, issued this statement in response to concerns from Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire:

“I believe Senator Whitmire’s concerns regarding the practice of allowing death row offenders to choose their last meal are valid. Effective immediately, no such accommodations will be made. They will receive the same meal served to other offenders on the unit.”

Here’s the original post about Whitmire’s concerns:
Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, wants to end the practice of providing death-row inmates with whatever they’d like for their last meal.

Whitmire – in a Thursday letter to Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice — said he’s long been concerned about the practice and that the last straw was the Houston Chronicle’s report of Lawrence Russell Brewer ordering a huge last meal that he failed to eat.

The senator recounted Brewer’s order of two chicken fried steaks, a triple meat bacon cheeseburger, a cheese omelet, a large bowl of fried okra, three fajitas, a pint of Blue Bell ice cream, and a pound of barbecue with a half loaf of white bread, calling it “ridiculous.”

“I am asking that you end this practice immediately or I am prepared to do so by statute next session,” Whitmire wrote. “Death row inmates before execution should be fed the same meal as any other inmate on the unit the day of the scheduled execution.”

I don’t trust the government to get anything right – especially death. On the other hand, some crimes are so dastardly, such as the murder of children, that death isn’t quite enough for me – I want torture and death.

Americans overwhelmingly support the death penalty and I am inclined to support it too. But there is that niggling doubt in the back of my mind – the worry that maybe the wrong guy is about to be put down.

I really don’t see the harm in giving inmates a last meal of their choice. Some people abuse it, like this assclown who ordered more food than any person could eat. But the state could impose limits, if they chose. Instead, they go for the extreme, ending last meals entirely.

Part of why I don’t trust the state to get it right is because it is so extreme and capricious this way. They don’t see any nuance. It’s very concerning.

Every Woman Adores A Fascist

I have begun to read Bitter Fame, a biography of Sylvia Plath that has languished unread on my shelves for, I think, five years. I’d resisted it (though I loved owning it) because I understood there were some objectivity problems; the author had received a great deal of help from Ted Hughes’s sister Olwyn, and basically gave Olwyn complete control over the manuscript. I cannot bear to read any criticism of Sylvia Plath from those who dislike her (just like I canna bear to listen to hateful screeds against the Enron executives.)

But the book called to me suddenly one bright afternoon from across the room and I decided, for whatever reason, that I was ready to read it. I found a paragraph in the book that I especially liked:

When I was learning to creep, my mother set me down on the beach to see what I thought of it. I crawled straight for the coming wave and was just through the wall of green when she caught my heels.

I sent Evan, who was traveling, an email with the question: do you hear a rhyme in these words? Is that eee sound an accident? He confirmed my instinct that it was probably no accident.

Even now, I do not think we appreciate the skill and brilliance of Sylvia Plath. There are dimensions within dimensions of every line of every poem. One of those dimensions is her rhyme and rhythm. The eee sound reminded me of her deliberate echo chamber of ooooh sounds in Daddy.

Daddy is a magnificent poem, a total thought, and one of the most heart-stoppingly honest pieces of writing I have ever read. I identify with it on a personal level and a poetic one. I want to write it here from memory:

You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset
I used to pray to recover you
Ach, du

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars
But the name of the town is common.
My Pollack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you
And the language obscene

An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen
I began to talk like a Jew
I think I may well be a Jew

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true
With my gypsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You–

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two
I was ten when they buried you
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you
I thought even the bones would do

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue
And then I knew what to do
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do
So daddy, I’m finally through
The black telephone’s off at the root,
The voices just can’t worm through

If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two–
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know
Daddy, you can lie back now

There’s a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you
They are dancing and stamping on you
They always knew it was you
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through

The pattern of this makes me dizzy. It has the crushing, insistent rhythm of train wheels, “Chuffing me off like a Jew… to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.” Under that is the ooo, the bright round sound of a baby’s first utterances.

This poem is a heaving, sweating, working poem. She makes explicit every thought. She leaves no room for another word to be said about the man who was her daddy – the train is too loud, you can not hear another thing over it. She has the last word.

Of course, she worked on her father issue her whole life. One of the most stirring early poems to explore the subject is Electra on Azalea Path. Notice the clever echo of her mother’s name, Aurelia Plath, in that title. Sylvia put a lot of those rhyming echoes and double entendres in her work. “Off, off eely tentacle/there is nothing between us” is one that springs to mind, and in The Bell Jar Esther Greenwood visits her father’s grave – an almost identical retelling of Electra on Azalea Path. The first words of Greenwood’s visit begins: “I had a great yearning, lately, to pay my father back for all the years of neglect, and start tending his grave.”

Ouch. I am reminded of Joyce Carol Oates saying she does not trust cleverness with words, including double entendres. JCO, for all her depth and brilliance, is missing out. Is it be because she is uncertain in her ability to use humor for serious subjects? Is it just a dislike of cleverness? One can not claim that Sylvia lacked gravitas and she used these vehicles constantly – a confirmation of her facile and playful mind, not a cop out as Oates seems to think.

Electra on Azalea Path:

The day you died I went into the dirt,
Into the lightless hibernaculum
Where bees, striped black and gold, sleep out the blizzard
Like hieratic stones, and the ground is hard.
It was good for twenty years, that wintering —
As if you never existed, as if I came
God-fathered into the world from my mother’s belly:
Her wide bed wore the stain of divinity.
I had nothing to do with guilt or anything
When I wormed back under my mother’s heart.

Small as a doll in my dress of innocence
I lay dreaming your epic, image by image.
Nobody died or withered on that stage.
Everything took place in a durable whiteness.
The day I woke, I woke on Churchyard Hill.
I found your name, I found your bones and all
Enlisted in a cramped necropolis
your speckled stone skewed by an iron fence.

In this charity ward, this poorhouse, where the dead
Crowd foot to foot, head to head, no flower
Breaks the soil. This is Azalea path.
A field of burdock opens to the south.
Six feet of yellow gravel cover you.
The artificial red sage does not stir
In the basket of plastic evergreens they put
At the headstone next to yours, nor does it rot,
Although the rains dissolve a bloody dye:
The ersatz petals drip, and they drip red.

Another kind of redness bothers me:
The dour slack sail drank my sister’s breath
The flat sea purpled like that evil cloth
My mother unrolled at your last homecoming.
I borrow the silts of an old tragedy.
The truth is, one late October, at my birth-cry
A scorpion stung its head, an ill-starred thing;
My mother dreamed you face down in the sea.

The stony actors poise and pause for breath.
I brought my love to bear, and then you died.
It was the gangrene ate you to the bone
My mother said: you died like any man.
How shall I age into that state of mind?
I am the ghost of an infamous suicide,
My own blue razor rusting at my throat.
O pardon the one who knocks for pardon at
Your gate, father — your hound-bitch, daughter, friend.
It was my love that did us both to death.

Just now, as I was typing the lines “Another kind of redness bothers me/ The dour slack sail drank my sister’s breath/ The flat sea purpled like that evil cloth”, I saw another echo. The sea is a critical element in Sylvia’s mythology. I have actually begun a large essay about Sylvia’s personal mythology, but briefly, the same way she cast echoes in her poems, she also cast shadows of images, like the outlines of an image right after you shut your eyes. There is always a bit of a reference to something else (how wonderfully manipulative of her, to write each poem strongly enough to stand on its own, but to compel us to read her entire corpus for the full understanding of her mind). So many of her poems reference drowning or water: “The waters off beautiful Nauset”; “I breathe water”; “foam to wheat/a glitter of seas”; “this is the sea, then, this great abeyance”; “the tits on mermaids and two legged dreamgirls”; “the water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea”. Additionally, in her real life she had to put an entire ocean between herself and her mother. And one afternoon in Cape Cod, she and Ted got stuck on a sandbar in a small boat; the event seemed to effect her deeply. It goes on and on, for twenty years – references to the sea, culminating in her father’s frisco head in the “freakish Atlantic”. I think water ultimately described a transition point for her.

Lady Lazarus gives us all the gory details:

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it–

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?–

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me

And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot–
The big strip tease.
Gentlemen, ladies

These are my hands
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.
It’s the theatrical

Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
Amused shout:

‘A miracle!’
That knocks me out.
There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart–
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash–
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there–

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Beware
Beware.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

Notice the sea references? They’re subtle:
The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

She was dead and came back to life like Lazarus and the water beings – the seashell and the “sticky pearls” are evidence of her journey. The sea was a dangerous place. One could drown while trying to make it to the other side. Sometimes she made it and sometimes she did not.

I love to think about Sylvia’s mythology and read her biographic details a thousand times. I like to read Ted Hughes’s answer to the Ariel poems in his book, Birthday Letters. I love to smirk when I realize I’ve found another of Sylvia’s playful puzzles, like her poem Metaphors, which is nine lines of nine syllables each, written when she was pregnant. It is a great eureka feeling when I catch a glimpse of that part of her mind. The poems tell me all I need to know about Sylvia Plath. They are infinite; there is always another layer, another dimension to be seen. I think it was her final gift to the world, these complex poems that we can hold on to, desperately, while we try to make it to the other side.

The Feral Child

Isn’t she gorgeous? Her name is Genie. She spent the first thirteen years of her life in a small empty room, strapped to a potty chair. Nobody spoke to her. She’d never been coddled or hugged or kissed. When she was nearly fourteen, her mother, legally blind, took her to the welfare office to apply for benefits. In what has to be the only case in the history of the world in which a bureaucrat was actually appropriately vigilant, the case worker noticed the child didn’t speak. When she walked, she had a kind of a weird bunny hop walk. And she appeared to be only six or seven years old, not fourteen. The bureaucrat intervened, and the child was taken from the abusive home. Her father left a suicide note that said, “The world will never understand.” Then he shot himself.

The child entered a weird netherland. She was studied and lived with the people studying her. She lived with one of the researchers for four years, and to the researcher’s amazement, she began to try to speak. She learned a little sign language and she would make barking sounds. She would be able to say things like “Bye” and “doctor”, though she did sound deaf when she spoke. The researchers thought this was terrific news – it was proof that children can learn to speak even later in life. But the funding for the “research” dried up and her researcher/father figure decided she would be better off in a foster home. She lived in six foster homes, including briefly with her birth mother, her condition deteriorating with each move. In the last one, she vomited, and her foster mother was so outraged that she beat the child nearly to death. Genie never opened her mouth again. She was terrified of being beaten, so terrified of opening her jaw to speak that she became weak from hunger and would have to be force fed.

She is fifty-four years old today and lives in a group home in Los Angeles with other disabled adults.

I wonder what she thinks about. I wonder if in the privacy of her bed at night she opens her mouth and tries to speak, maybe quietly so the caretakers can’t hear her. I wonder if she ever wonders about the researchers, or her father, or her mother.

I think about how small the window of life is for her. How little she had. I wonder if she remembers those foster families, especially the researchers, and wonders if it was a dream.

Rick Perry Unleashes Withering Attack Ad

I love Rick Perry’s bluntness and his willingness to call Obama out on the failure of his administration. The music in this video is very cinematic. In fact the whole thing looks like a trailer for a big budget summer action film.

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