Sunday, February 12, 2012

first snow (at the edge of the earth)

These were photos of the first snow at Riverlot, back in mid-November (and was probably some of the most snow we've seen this year at home, strangely enough). And that day I was thinking about my dad, and how since I'd been away he would always send me photos of the first snowfall. I always appreciated these little updates of what the earth was doing, faraway in my homeland.

He was never one for speaking much on the phone, so especially cherished these little notes of his, whether snapshots from the backyard or recent fishing trips or photos of especially cute Jack Russell Terriers or news snippets he'd come across that he thought I'd like to read. And opening my inbox now every morning I am constantly reminded of the absence of his emails, that I never see his name pop up amongst listserv notices and the daily flood of university tasks.

Perhaps even more strongly, I still feel a wave of grief every time there is something I want to tell him -- something interesting that I've read about fossils unearthed or deep sea fish newly discovered or antediluvian bacteria trapped in Antarctic core ice (shades of the X-Files!) or how the week after he died they found the feathers of dinosaurs trapped in amber in the southern coal fields, how they thought they'd finally captured evidence of particles moving faster than light. These are the things we'd marvel at together, and they remind me of his sense of wonder at the world; to not be able to tell him these things, share them with him, feels like waking up in the night and grasping around in the dark for something that can never be touched, isn't even there where you thought it was.

Last month I read Roland Barthes' 'Mourning Diary', a compilation of thoughts he jotted down on cards the year(s) after his mother passed away after a long illness. They devastate me and at once leave me with an immense calm as I find so much of what I experience mirrored there, raw and unapologetic, in this instance, the realization that there is so much I am never going to be able to tell him, talk to him about:

Feb 12th. Snow, a real snowstorm in Paris; strange. I tell myself and suffer for it: she will never again be here to see it, or for me to describe it for her.

I used to eagerly upload my fieldwork photos, and those from when I was first in Scotland, to show him these places where I was too, these places he would never see other than through me. To show him these things also comforted me, and sending him these things became a way of reminding myself, reassuring myself that this is what he wanted me to be doing; that I should not feel any guilt whatsoever at being away from him while he was ill. I wanted to create and discover beautiful things, and share them with him, as a way of showing him what his support for me could do. And so we were conduits for these little quotidian experiences, bits of knowledge, and this always connected us.

So much of grieving, and the aftermath of a death, is about renegotiating your relationship with that person. They still exist, but in a different form now, in a way that makes your brain try to grow tendrils in order to try to reach and wrap itself around this change of state and tense.

In the weeks after his passing, though, I had a dream, the first dream with him in it after his death. He walked into the kitchen like nothing had happened, and I rushed over to him and I was crying in my sleep, holding on to him, telling him how much I missed him. He told me not to worry, he was doing fine, and I asked him, had he heard about the feathers in amber? And he said, no he hadn't, yet, but he was going to remember that, read about it later. Let me just grab a pen and write that down, he said, just like he always did when he asked me about something, so he wouldn't forget the details. And certainly, I know that I still can tell him things, tell him whatever I want -- but I have so much trouble handling the fact it still feels like a monologue. I don't know yet how he can respond.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

on these legs

Self-portrait in the fields at the edge of the earth, Nov 2011

This evening, I am so tired, and lately I feel constantly reminded that I have been under so much stress this year, that the fatigue still hasn’t quite seemed to lift. I feel irked, because sometimes my body does this, gets uselessly tired, but refuses to sleep at night and then begs for naps by mid-afternoon.

Such a strange body, sometimes. Often it’s my body’s inner workings that frustrate me – the heaving, knotted tangling of my guts when my digestive system malfunctions, the sudden, insidious stroke-like misfirings of my neurons that bring the pain, nausea and incoherence of migraines.

Other times it’s my appearance. The way I am too bony in places, too lumpy in others. A face too soft-featured, indelicate, and plain. Pale as a white whale, but with dry skin, freckle outbreaks, and incorrigible body hair.

Being annoyed with my body directly translates into a generally unpleasant emotional state, just as less-than-stellar emotions bring pain felt in all manner of ways. Anxiety that I feel nearly constantly sometimes pervades every part of me – during a nearly year-long period of intense anxiety when I was younger, I ate hardly anything, because I felt such tension and blockage in my throat and windpipe I worried I was constantly about to choke.

But what I am trying to express here is that I don’t want to feel negative about any aspect of myself—because there is no such thing as dualism despite what Descartes says, don’t listen to him—and I am always trying to reconcile the way I’d like to think about my self and this body that I don’t just dwell IN, but exist AS. This is the only form I know, and I am grateful that I am living.

While running the other day, I was feeling my leg muscles creaking and searing in the damp cold, and I remembered something my dad said to me this summer, one time while I waited for him to muster up the energy for me to help him walk upstairs. I was sitting on the floor, stretching a bit, and he observed, “You know, you sure have Ferguson legs, my legs”.

And I looked at them, the ones everyone in track called ‘turkey legs’, because they weren’t as skinny as the long-distance boys’ efficient chicken-legs, nor as long and shapely as those of the other girls. Thin little forelegs under massive thighs, with patchy hair and an uneven tan.

But now I focused not only on the taut curve of the quad and slimmer slope of the calf, but tried to really feel them as I stand up, each joint and sinew unfolding, blood rushing through the hidden webwork. They are so strong, and they carry me well. “Yes, they’re good ones”, I say to my dad, and I help him up to bed.

I think of his legs, then, swathed in his grey sweatpants that seemed to become more and more voluminous. In the hospital, I massaged his pale, swollen feet and calves that could never stay warm, the limp ghosts of legs that cycled and walked daily not so long before, that once led me high up into the mountains and later followed me along those same trails.

And when I was running, North Sea sand under my feet, straining in the wind, I felt something of my father in my legs, a current running from the depth of the muscle and springing into the earth. And there was pain and there was lightness, there was an energy that comes from the remembrance of power, and I felt I was honouring him.

I need to be good to myself, my body, and see every part as a gift, be grateful for it. All of the aches and discomfort within it, the strange outer aesthetics and my ambivalent feelings about them.

I have his skin, his colouring, and it is on his legs I run. I am physical pieces of my father left on earth.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

tops of birches

Kirsten Everberg: White Birch Grove, North (After Tarkovsky), 2008

White Birch Grove, North (After Tarkovsky), Kirsten Everberg, 1998.


Tops of Birches

as though
nothing changed:
and hearing--

(and i forgetting it was life long forgetting the past voiced as a cradle song so as to remember the rest of life the lullaby with its silent-originary spirit primal opening of me a widening it promisingly freely without limit)

stillness--(long time already there is no one):
the air--among the tops:
of birches


more about Gennady Aygi (Chuvash poet, writing in Russian to survive) here
also, lovely essay by one of his first English translators