This afternoon when I woke from a nap, I had one of the spells I’ve become used to, in which I feel trapped, unable to move, and as alone as if I were out on an icecap in the Arctic Sea…
These seem particular to being in my sixties and the feeling that I am still anchored in the past.
Which past? Pick one. My familial past, fifty odd years ago, back on Indian School Road in our Albuquerque adobe where I lived from ages two through twelve, my father putting me to bed singing me Yale’s Whiffenpoof song–
“We are poor little lambs, who have gone astray…bah, bah, bah….” this past, with a rich hold on me of images of the Southwest, my parents and brother, all of us together.
My past in St. Paul, when I lived in a series of garret apartments that were cheap and shabby-beautiful, on Summit Avenue– that City of Poets, old friends whose hair is silver now.
The trip to Europe, principally Italy, the love I didn’t see for what it was, so terrified I was there the whole time, although I took a train down the coast to the very toe of the boot to be with a near stranger who spoke no English and yet adored me.
The past that is exquisite antiquity– the vistas of Berlin, Zurich, London, Rome….and beautiful Calabria in the south of Italy with its myriad hilly towns, where, if I were simultaneously brave and rich I would go….
And the past twenty years that have run like sand through the glass here in Colorado living on six acres with my companion Jack Brooks, raising Golden Retrievers.
How did it happen– that he is 70, and I am 64 in November? That where there was teeming life in the kennel, there are overgrown tangles of poplars and foliage, rotting fenceposts, fallen trees, ghosts. And one matron Golden of twelve who can barely see, and her grand-daughter, the beauteous Gilded Peak Scrumptious Munchkin, aka “Munch’, who lives with me?
I have memorialized the past in a host of poems, but I feel best when I am not so wistful and regretting every choice I’ve ever made including and especially to ride a certain gray Arabian mare one afternoon after drinking a bottle of champagne and forgetting to tighten my cinch.
This month is five years from my accident that fractured my right leg, my ensuing six months in a nursing home for rehab. It has taken me a long time to reclaim a measure of mobility and several measures of independence.
I was unable to trust my leg for some time, and had many set backs. But these days, despite the leg’s having deformed and shortened by three inches, I get along with a back brace and a cane. About six months ago I went through some sort of natural transition in which I parked the walker in the back of my pick-up.
When I was about a year old, it was discovered I had a displaced hip, and I had to be in a body cast for a year. The cast was changed, of course, as I grew, but I was immobilized. Immobilized children lose out on the critical time when they find out they are all right on their own, wandering ever greater distances from their mothers, using her as home base– ultimately able to relax the attachment and live in the greater world.
I taught myself to lurch from side to side; I remember it. But what it must have done to that little girl to be in a plaster tomb.
My inability to break out of the past, to move on, I’m certain harks back to that time and circumstance. In the 80’s and most of the nineties I pushed back the physical boundaries of the world, riding a horse into the mountains and overcoming my agoraphobia enough to commute to the University of Colorado to teach writing for four years.
It’s ironic that someone as brave as I would doubt her own courage for one minute. Yet we who had a rough start and have traveled a rough road do doubt ourselves. Even as I write new poems or an essay, floating in the creative and intellectual stratosphere, I doubt and fear.
If we are afraid to live fully and move on, the past and the unknown conspire to keep us treading water.
I would be underwater, perhaps unable to survive at all, if it were not for the government assistance that pays my rent, pays my car insurance and buys my groceries. This is where the personal and political intersect for me and wherein I return to the fact that we are on the homestretch before the election.
Mitt Romney continues to assert that Barack Obama has created a dependency society, seizing on this notion of late to counter the video released last week in which he wrote off half of the nation as “moochers.” May the sun set soon on the ineptitude of this man so that we don’t have to worry about him anymore.
Medicare gives me a doctor. Medicaid will take care of me when I have to be institutionalized next door once more, in the Golden Peaks Nursing Home, where my mother was and where I spent those six problematic months. These benefits– V.A. Benefits, Social Security Disability payments, Medicare and Medicaid, insure the survival of millions of us who have given our all to the community, the country and the world.
I have contempt for the Republican strategists who promulgate lies. There can be no recovery from anything, no moving forward, no wanting to get up in the morning, without the ability to keep a roof over your head– so that you can have a little shabby chique place in a four-plex you can fill with music and the smell of freshly ground coffee and lay hold of the present to make something of it. I can see why many throw themselves down at the foot of the Cross or otherwise intensify their spiritual practices in this time of life. At this moment, writing in twilit solitude in autumn, I wish I had not lost my faith.
Here is the remarkable Anna Netrebko, singing Violetta’s aria of surmise that her life is ending– Adio al Passato, La Traviata, Giuseppe Verdi, followed by her exquisite rendering of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Pie Jesu — …and an Andrews lament.
Notes on a Beautiful Sadness
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
down in the flood of remembrance,
I weep like a child for the past.
D.H. Lawrence, Piano
Oh but if there had been glamor
in that beautiful place. Or if the sadness
itself had worn a tint like the sunrise:
the adobe that held the small family
like a darkly veined hand in the alfalfa
incense of summer, the cicadas’
relentless ave verum. If the dark-eyed
infant in the christening gown had not
been as mortal, her skin listening, hearing
the rise and fall of remonstrating voices.
If the camellia-lovely green-eyed mother
ever sang, or laughing, buoyed us,
if the father’s amorous play were ever
returned before us so that we could know
what rapture was. If down the hallway
of the years there had been a doorway
into light, an invitation to come into day
whole and brave and hungry, or the world
itself dance toward us in a red dress
of possibility. As it happens now, the house
is there shuttered, hollyhocks in flagging
ruin; the girl I was in the desert years
on-living, proffering me midnight roses,
her dark hair a wound.
copyright Jenne’ R. Andrews September 2012