Old Lady Blog
Old Lady Blog
For the 10 year old girl from Syria
Shards of glass flew through the startled air.
Familiar voices stopped when the wires were cut.
Description fled in dust.
It was the end of metaphor.
You huddled on the floor
in the dark arms of morning.
For Earl Thompson (Yakima Indian nation)
He tried to see red and blue horses galloping across a plain, but the horses would not come. His wife was crying by his side. He thought if he saw them he would live to see another day. It was a full moon night in April, and the willows were about to bud. He tried to see red and blue horses, but something else appeared instead.
He was in a room without walls. A door opened into light. He stepped across the threshold into air. He had lost his arms and legs and feet. He floated without wings. He turned around. In the distance was a woman weeping by an empty bed.
Trapped, part II
I don’t know how long I stood in the middle of the corridor watching the doors opening one by one. The doors did not open sequentially. They opened at random every few minutes. Each time a door opened a person emerged either in a wheelchair or on crutches or using a walker. Some of the wheelchairs were designed so the person sitting in it could move along the corridor without help. They all were moving in the same direction that led away from the entrance. If I wanted to get out of the mall, I had better walk against the traffic and move from where I stood at Door l03 down to Door l. I told myself to keep calm and not to panic.
I walked and walked and was up to Door 56 when a buzzer sounded, and then an alarm went off. The people who were walking scurried quickly back into their rooms. Door slammed, and within a few minutes I was alone again.
I was hungry and tired and out of breath. My khaki pants were wrinkled and dirty, and the white short sleeved polo shirt had dark sweat stains under the arms. I needed a hot shower and something to eat. It was odd that there was no food court. I sat down on the bench facing Door 56. I was desperate for a glass of water. If only water would appear.
A bottle of Poland Springs appeared. At least something works here, I thought. There must be a set of rules and regulations, and it was up to me to figure out which ones would work.
Would prayer suffice? Some prayers must work.
Had I caused myself to be lost in this mall?
Other people had taken the easy way out and were safe behind a door; that was why they felt no fear. Life was a Long Dark Corridor we walked without knowing what might happen the next moment.
— February 21, 2019
I was walking in the mall down a long narrow corridor with dirty gray carpet. There were urine and water stains and smidges of oil. I could see the sunset in the skylight above my head. Red, orange, green and blue neon lights blinked on and off, on and off, in the signs above each store. There was liquor, lingerie, shoes, baby clothes, luggage, and chocolate shops. I did not stop to stare in any of the windows but continued to methodically walk. I was so tired I thought I would collapse. I wanted to take a nap. I saw a plastic bench I had not seen before and sat down heavily. I stared at a fake potted palm tree that had tinsel hanging from the branches although it was near Easter, another season. I saw no clock. I checked my wrist but found no watch. Perhaps time had no relevance here and only destination mattered; if that were so, I was spinning like a hamster on a wheel. I started out that morning to get a new dress and shoes to wear to a party, but I had forgotten the reason I came to the mall.
If I did not know my destination, there was no chance I would arrive. Was it such a surprise then that I was walking hour after hour? Years might pass. It would make no difference to anyone else if I disappeared. If there were no places to buy food, even a hot dog or hamburger or a slice of pizza and a glass of water, I would starve to death in this damn mall. Furthermore, why was I the only human being walking down this corridor? Did the government declare a national emergency?
Were the residents locked in voluntarily to shut out the world which consisted of this endless corridor, a fake potted palm tree, and a plastic bench? Were the residents prisoners in their rooms who had no way of answering the door even if they wanted to? A voice whispered in my ear, “Assume nothing. Watch.”
I sat back down on the bench and waited. Eventually, door number 99 opened. I saw a teenage girl who wore jeans and a white T shirt and pink high topped sneakers pushing a wheelchair on which sat a thin man with gray long hair tied in a ponytail. He looked unkempt and old and was expressionless. I wondered if he had dementia. The teenage girl wheeled the man down the corridor. I could hear her gum snap in her mouth. She was wearing earphones and keeping time with her wrists to the music. I waved at the girl, but she looked at me and through me. I have got to get out of here, I thought.
A second door creaked open, and an obese woman dressed all in black came out pushing a baby carriage in which sat a white poodle with a rhinestone necklace. I waved wildly, but she did not respond either. She strode down the corridor murmuring to the poodle as if it were a baby.
Other doors began to open slowly. A woman with white hair and gnarled spotted hands and fingers who was dressed in a thin white night gown moved tapped a cane left and right. A young man whose head was twisted to a horrible angle over his shoulders looked paralyzed. I must be losing my mind. I looked at my sandals and pictured them as ruby red slippers. I tried. Believe me, I tried. I have never tried so hard in my life to picture anything as those ruby red slippers. I am still here.
— February 20, 2019
For the gardener who is gone
The dried stalks of the sunflowers are snapped in half, and the wooden slats of the porch are split and broken. Fake spider webs are draped across the columns of the porch, and a plastic skeleton hangs from the branch of a tree. The front door is half open but blocked by a piece of rusted gate and the driveway filled with empty cardboard cartons and weeds.
From the first day of spring until winter the owner of the house worked in the garden mowing and planting and mulching and deadheading and weeding. Every other day he replaced the sugared water in the feeders and put out slices of fresh orange or apples for the birds. I stopped once to tell him what a magnificent garden he created, and he said, I love this garden like it’s my baby.”
The last time I saw him was a year ago in July. He always wore the same torn stained pair of faded denim overalls and a white shirt with sleeves rolled up. He lurched about as if he were out of breath; although I waved, he did not wave back but maybe he did not see me.
Yesterday morning there were two cars and a van in the driveway and people yelling at each other carrying tables and chairs and pots and pans. Today the white Chevy is gone. I walk with head bent down against the wind and wear a fleece jacket and two layers of shirts as well as a wool hat and gloves. The moss between the cracks of the sidewalk that was green in the sun is brown. The last flock of geese veered south last night with hoarse honking sounds. The hard ground is blanketed with yellow leaves curled at the edges. Everything is shut down.
From a forthcoming title: Focused Light from a Different Star
In response to women artists of the last two centuries and the work they produced.
The Savage Sparkler, Alice Aycock, 1981, steel, sheet metal, heating coils, florescent lights, motors and fans
What kind of machine is this?
Florescent strings of lights flash on and off.
There are no switches.
The turbine is huge but does not turn.
There are no signs.
Brown and green look bland.
This is not a geometry we understand.
We see what appears to be a wire ladder leading in but no bench on which to sit.
No buttons or levers.
Senses reel inside ring after ring of glinting steel.
Trapped in a metal labyrinth without a thread
an increasing sense of dead of dread.
color Cibachrome photograph
Hundreds of black ugly squirrels made of clay, metal armature and polyester resin on the floor salute with upraised paws. Others crawl on the walls and hang from the ceiling upside down like bats without wings. They creep into every single crack and crevice waving fat tails like flags while the man on the porch sits alone under a beach umbrella oblivious of this invading hoard & blind to the close proximity of flesh and fur and bone and claws.
Some clench nuts between their teeth. They sniff everywhere.
The man looks like a prop. The squirrels look real. They bask with delight in the garish pink light.
The door to the pantry is thrust widen open to air.
The squirrels are indifferent to the man in the chair.
The Artist’s Wife in the Garden at Skagen 1893 Peder Severin Krøyer oil on canvas
reading a book under a huge rose bush
whose perfumed white petals umbrella her glossy hair
unaware that her husband the artist brush in hand stares.
He dapples the emerald lawn with soft dark shadows; gold light wavers and ripples. He arranges the light so it surrounds her like a halo and she floats unreal.
Self Portrait Frida Kahlo l940 oil on canvas
as if you were the executioner
high cheekbones brushed with crimson rouge
ebony eyes and hair.
She wears a loose white peasant blouse
a necklace made of thorns wound
tight as noose around her neck
a blackbird about to rip her throat to bits.
Compressed by heavy humid air
caged in by dense green leaves and spikes
a pale sky neither day or night
not a single glimmer of light.
A black cat with yellow eyes is perched like a totem on her shoulder
Vicious insects flying everywhere.
Is that a white caterpillar or worm pinned like a jewel above her ear?
No laughing monkeys here.
A dark hive no one would wish to enter.
Creation of the Birds Remedios Varo 1958 oil on masonite
or the notes of a violin run through tubes like chemicals.
We cannot create form out of air.
We copy the image there.
The artist appears as a white and brown owl with sharp pointed beak
eyes closed as if dreaming.
The room may be a cell or cave.
She is covered with mottled feathers head to foot but has no wings.
Her elbows are placed squarely on the drafting table
naked dirty feet splayed on an ordinary brown and beige tiled floor.
She wears white kid gloves to hide her claws.
Join Elizabeth Murray 1980 oil on canvas
It seems to be a heart
split in two parts
one red one green.
If the black string is an umbilical cord
then the shape is a fetus not a heart.
What was whole is severed.
The stain is dark and thick as pain.
The space between the two
widens as we watch.
IXI BY Susan Rothenberg 1977 Flashe and acrylic on canvas
without saddle bridle rider
the wild horse gallops across the canvas.
Neck outstretched he flashes past like a half remembered image from a dream
like the millions of horses that vanished during the Ice Age at the end of the Pleistocene.
Hoofs pound dirt to dust
layers of thick red paint laid down like blood or rust.
How we love our Appaloosas Morgans Quarters .
We ride race breed tame.
We live in cities where there once were woods and plains.
The glaciers are melting.
Remember the Eohippus and the Caballine.
From a forthcoming title: Daybook II —
Repetition goes nowhere.
The right furniture makes no difference.
When you own too much you stumble.
Distance does not breed fondness
likely means something else.
William Stafford said, It is always good to have a little song to hum to yourself.
The water wars have begun.
At the start of the dry season we assumed it would end. We heard thunder, but rain did not come. We became so desperate we did rain dances and chanted, but nothing worked. We knelt in the dirt and prayed to gods to let the water run again. Then we blamed the government, but it made no difference. What had we done? How had we sinned so that water would not run?
Our bellies became bloated and our throats parched. We had wrinkled skin then convulsions No flowers in the vase became a joke when there were no more nuts or vegetables, or grains or fruit Dead goats, cattle, and sheep lay piled in heaps. The earth split into fissures. Streams trickled over rocks then stopped. Water tanks gurgled then spit sand. We did not understand.
Writer and Agent
Writer: Mr. Dupane, I am honored to meet you.
Agent: Stop the bullshit. Every writer is dying to get me as their literary agent. You have ten minutes to make your case.
Writer: What I have is unique.
Agent: Sure. Blah Blah. Every writer says the same thing. You all think you’re so special but you’re no different than the rest of us.
Agent : I don’t get it. You just barged in here.
Writer: Barged is not a word I would select.
Agent: It is not up to you to select anything. You have nine minutes left.
Writer: You are obsessed with time.
Agent: I have a writer in half an hour worth a million.
Writer: Bingo, I hit the spot. You are run by time. Time according to Albert Einstein does not exist.
Agent: Is this some kind of plug for a novel? You’re wasting my time with this bullshit. I am a famous literary agent. People pay for my opinion. I read work and make accurate professional judgments of the quality of the work. I know which publishers are looking for what work at any given time. I know how to match a book to the needs of the publisher and get the best price.
Writer: So it is all about price?
Agent: Get out of here. You’re an idiot.
Writer: You are flustered and upset because I am not the person you expect me to be. You thought I would walk in here intimidated and humble and begging on my hands and knees for you to be my literary agent. You thought I would be carrying a bundle of paper wrapped in tissue paper and tied with string that was my life’s work.
Agent: (sighs and sits back down at desk, lights cigarette and takes deep breath) Time’s up.
Writer: Your time, not mine.
Agent: You think you are so special.
Writer: Not special, Just different. Books last after you drop dead.
Agent: So you think getting a book in print makes you immortal?
Writer: We have to define immortal.
Agent: Immortal as in the idea of God. God lasts though the earth be dust and the heavens dissolve and all therein etc.
Writer: Very good, A Biblical quote. As I was saying.
Agent: Yeah, you haven’t shut up since you walked through the door. That new receptionist doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing. You walked right past her.
Writer: Don’t blame her. She didn’t see me.
Agent: Of course she did.
Writer: What makes you say that?
Agent: She saw you walk past.
Writer: If we could agree on the definition of immortal.
Agent: So you got this little repartee all planned out and think you can lead me along like a dumb sheep?
Writer: If I believed you were dumb sheep, I would never have walked through the door.
Agent: Who the hell are you anyway?
Writer: Whoever you want me to be.
Agent: Damn it, I am getting another headache. (Call for secretary) I NEED WATER. She rushes in and hands him a tall glass of water with ice. GET ME TWO ADVIL (She goes out and rushes back in with two Advil. He waves her out with annoyance)
Writer: The difference between you and me right now is I am writer and you are an agent, and we have reached no agreement.
Agent: That’s for sure.. You’ve been here ten minutes and I haven’t heard you give a pitch for whatever damn thing you wrote.
Writer: Not the point.
Agent: What’s the point for God’s sake?
Writer: Immortality has nothing to do with a God but publishing does. When you write a book and it is in print, it is there after you die. It never goes out of existence.
Agent: Now that’s a laugh. Books are remaindered every day. Writers go out of fashion. So much for your immortality.
Writer: The words, the paragraphs, the chapters are a screen. You present the images and the readers filer them through their own experience and form a vital connection to the real you.
Agent: And who is that?
Writer: We are our thoughts.
Agent: Only a writer could say such a ridiculous thing. We are only our thoughts. If we were only our thoughts, we would al be floating around and not sitting in this office.. There would be n desk and chair no walls no computers no manuscripts. You still have not told me what you are doing here.
Writer: The reason has to fit your expectation for you to accept my presence.
Agent: What are you talking about?
Writer: Unless I adapt the posture and speech of a writer who is searching desperately for an agent, in your mind, I do not exist.
Agent: Where’s the book. I take it you brought a book.
Writer: Not at all. I brought myself. I wanted to know if you could see me. (Writer vanishes)
For Eli Bodi Enzer
You asked us to take you for a walk in Central Park because you wanted to see the change in season. By then you leaned on a cane and stumbled. We walked on either side. You looked like an ancient monk, but this was no Chinese painting.
We had stopped counting the days and months. There was no sum. It was the second spring, and in two weeks the third brain surgery would begin. You said the brand new Nikon you carried on a strap on your shoulder was too heavy a weight to bear and accidentally left it on a rock. You asked us to go find it but could not remember where you stopped.
I remember standing by your bed staring at your shaved head swathed in white bandages. Words were trapped inside your tongue. You assured us that consciousness continues after death.
It was not only the Nikon that was left behind on Gapstow Bridge.
The dirt on the mounds of snow had turned to mud. The snow was melting. You rubbed your eyes because the stream was a blur and said you needed new glasses with stronger lens. You hummed a tune from a musical comedy from the l940’s but you could not remember the words. Syllables and vowels were mixed like soup inside your head and syntax had flown away like a bird. A crescent moon floated in the sky. One star winked its eye. You leaned on the railing to look over the edge. The weeping willows were about to bud. It was a time and season lacking rhyme or reason.
Is there a common language of the dead? Do you use consonants and vowels? Do you remember subjects and verbs or know what end rhyme is? Do you whisper or shout? How can I translate?
Cross by the Sea Canada , 1932
It has always been there
It could be another country or this.
There is no sign of a ship.
A gray day neither morning nor afternoon.
It could be any season.
A high wind whips the waves into whitecaps.
It could be today or yesterday.
Two Poems for Georgia O’Keefe
Toni Ortner’s manuscript for a book on Georgia O’Keefe has been accepted for publication. Here below are two exerts from it.
A Blackbird with Snow Covered Red Hills 1946 for Georgia O’Keefe
You say the hills are red but all I see is white snow & light rising like mist to push out the blue of air.
What you said is not what you painted.
Appearance is deceptive.
59th Street Studio, 1919, For Georgia O’Keefe
What kind of studio is this?
Exquisitely Georgia O’Keefe
here no door walls windows floor
no fruits or flowers set in a vase
no paints pencils paper
black dominates space
Imagine brown asymmetrical shapes
as narrow windows covered with cardboard sheets
so she cannot see the light or hear noises from the street .
A crimson arrow points inward.
The language I speak is a language of grief
When we heard the guns we grabbed what we could. The bullets shattered the windows and splintered the doors. The floors shook. There was no place to run or hide. I grabbed two dish towels because I happened to be standing in the kitchen. We use them as turbans on our heads. Three men dead tossed overboard. The three men left saved shoes and pants and belts. I gave the last bit of bread to my child and for her sake try to smile. I whisper tales of almonds and honey cakes. She is too tired to weep; her head lies listless and she sleeps. Her pants and blouse are rags. I tried to drink salt water but I gagged. Yesterday, the boy cast a string into the sea and fashioned a hook by bending a rusty nail.
There will be rows of lovely olive trees in Greece where the roofs of the houses are white and sparkle like diamonds in the sun. There are blue doors and a cross on every house so we will surely be welcome there instead of beheaded, crucified and shot.
No one listens. No one cares.
We do not know if we go North or South or East or West. We follow the seagulls. We do not understand the reason we had to flee and leave our lives behind. Women herded into cages by rebels and driven to the village square. Chemical weapons. Perhaps this is some kind of test.
Syllables drop like heavy stones.
I used to think I could not get through the day without a cup of espresso, one lump of sugar and a slice of fresh lemon. Our skin is blistered by the sun. There is not enough water for the six of us to share. There is no adequate prayer. I heard that on a mountain after a plane crash the survivors were forced to eat flesh. Thank God, we have not gotten that desperate yet. I tell myself we are lucky to be alive on this leaky boat. The smugglers swore we would reach the rocky shores. They lied. We thought our coins bought freedom. We ride the tide bereft. Nothing we knew is left.
Sometimes I think we are all refugees floating in a wine dark sea.
[Image: Jean Jacques Henner. Jesus, The seven sorrows of Mary]
Gone/ All Gone
The chunks of ice are melting. In the distance the steel spires of the city glitter above the still water where bloated bodies float. The marble steps the paintings the libraries the museums the ancient statues and books. All gone. We knew the glaciers were melting. We knew the water would rise. We knew it was just a matter of time even when the President swore there was no such thing as climate change since God controls the weather. We were not blind. We saw how the currents swept in and ripped out the dunes and flooded the streets of cities. We knew the dams did not hold. We saw the moon turn red.
I no longer smell the stench of burning flesh or oil and gas or hear the screams of women. The roar of the winds died down. The men who wore black masks and chopped off peoples’ head are long since drowned. It is quiet here. The water is retreating into shining pools and thin gnarled branches rise like dancers in the morning mist. I hear the chirp of a bird. I am afraid to ask for anything, but if there is one bird maybe more will come. I am alone except for the scattered bones of sheep and cows that whiten the fields with sharp edges. So much buried in the mud I will not touch / windows, roofs, televisions, I Pads, X boxes, medals, blankets, shirts and shoes. I am the skeleton of who I was.
I see green buds. They come first on the thorn bushes, and I remember His crown was made of thorns. I remember the funny face of a clown with red rouged cheeks and how the elephants marched slowly around the big ring in the circus with the babies using their trunks to hold onto the tails of the mothers. We caged animals in zoos. I wonder if any animals escaped and where they are or if they drowned. I remember the painted turtles and the blue velvet ribbons mother twined in my braids and the buttered popcorn at the movies.
I must not think. I must not remember. I amuse myself by singing songs. I sing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, When you wish upon a star, Auld Lang Syne, Stormy Weather, I am looking over a four leaf clover. I hum what I remember of Night in Tunisia by Dizzy Gillespie and Round about Midnight by Thelonious Monk, then comes London Bridge is Falling Down and Little Lambs Like Ivy.
He was our Shepherd and we were His lambs. If they never listened to Him before they nailed Him to the cross, who am I to speak? I sit in a rowboat beached in a field of daisies. I saw the lakes turn into deserts and the red and yellow boats curled like snails in the sand. I saw the wind rip the roofs off houses. A tornado tore a baby girl right out of her mother’s hands. I saw the shards and splintered wood the torn white sails. The schools of cod are gone along with the coral reefs and squid and whales. The dolphins left us first casting their bodies on the beach like signals. We never listened.
The boats are coming over the rim of the world and they just keep coming hour after hour until I stop counting. The horizon is rimmed with boats & rafts bobbing up and down waiting to drift in. Men paddle with oars and boards and hands. Women clutch babies in shawls. It is so unreal I feel I am watching a movie. People are fleeing cities whose walls are ridden with bullets where women are lined up with burlap bags thrown over their heads and price tags pinned to chests. A young boy is shot running across a street to get a loaf of bread. A six year old is forced to watch a man being nailed to a cross because he dared to smoke a cigarette. If she does not watch she will be shot. A ten year old girl watches her father and two brothers shot then is raped by six men and dies four hours later. The mother says the men tied her down with ropes and if she said a word she was whipped. Towns and cities and villages are broken stones dust and rust. Three soldiers march down a deserted streets. They carry machine guns but even the dogs and cats have fled. Bodies are strewn on the ground like rags, bodies tossed into pits. The stench of rotting garbage. Grains of sugar spilled onto counters covered with flies. Moldy bread. Dresses, blouses, shirts and pants swing like ghosts in closets.
She stopped speaking. The audience sat in hard back chairs heads bent forwards to catch each word, but her words were stones that choked her throat and her tongue was dry and numb She held tight to the microphone like it was a rope, but all they heard was the hoarse rasp of her breath.
I saw a man stumble through the surf and kneel down on the beach and weep. The women who were pregnant gave birth as soon as they reached the beach with the oldest women kneeling down to help the women push the babies out, all that blood the placentas lying in the sand like trembling white jellyfish. A baby’s shoe filled with blood, a plastic doll without a head, a boy’s jacket ridden with bullet holes stuck to a rock like a flag and a white fur rabbit with its leg torn off.
Would you go back? A man in the front row asked.
When I went, there were thousands of volunteers from different countries. I have never seen anything like it. We worked in harmony even though we could not understand each other’s language The Greek government had not yet cordoned off the beaches. Now you have to show ID’s and passes to reach the beaches although foreigners can still sneak into the detention camps.
What are the detentions camps like?
The speaker shook her head; tears streamed down her cheeks.
Alone we burn
Alone we burn through dark catastrophes of grief
the death of bone and flesh
each moment a new green leaf
where hope holds sway
As Earth Rides
Earth rides waves of light and air.
Pink clouds float behind the dark bark of trees.
We cannot deceiver the whisper of leaves.
Dogs hear sounds we cannot hear.
Fields of ice turn to bright white flocks.
Steps under seas lead nowhere.
dolphins burnt to death
whales washed upon the beach
dead birds falling from the sky
refugees who flee
children tossed like rags on rocks.
What’s left when you are dead?
I used to hold your hand but your flesh is dust and your bones are buried in mud. My brother and I tossed you into the Bay like you wanted and added a huge rose bouquet. We made sure it was red.
My fingers gnarled like the roots of trees hold fast to the cliff.
The antiques you left are and broken and stained. There are a handful of gold coins in the drawer but they won’t buy a loaf of bread. There is no milk left. I am bereft.
If death is a long dark sleep and we do not awaken until the Resurrection, I will be stunned to be in the New Jerusalem. I mean just think of it. Being asleep and suddenly standing in hot dry air with a warm wind and palm trees swaying and bougainvillea all over the hedges and vines with plump purple grapes and clear streams and all that harp like music and all these strangers around you some dancing and singing and others blowing the Shafer or playing a game of gin rummy right where they left off. What kind of stuff would we eat? For sure there would never be red meat because the lion would lay down with the lamb and we all would understand that animals are friends and meat is dead flesh. Imagine one second you are less than a speck of dust and the next flesh that stands in the New Jerusalem. Who would you see? If your mother your father your sister your son your brother your daughter were not Believers, where would they be?
Would you have the slightest inkling of the horror that occurred before you arrived I mean the sun going dark at noon and all the stars falling down and the cities drowned and the mountains leveled into plains and those four horsemen riding in from the clouds on white steeds bearing swords of fire and blood. Would you have heard any of the screams or would whatever happened while you slept be hidden like a dream.
What does the End Times mean? If one Time ends and another begins, someone must have a watch. I try not to bother myself with these questions.
Lights out or the weather of the apocalypse
Put it this way. You saw and did not see. You heard but did not listen. He never wanted you to kill in His name, drink wine as if it were His blood or eat bread as if it were his flesh. He was never into sacrifice or ritual. His name was Love. He did not come to rule or judge. He told you not to gather all the crops but leave the remnants for strangers. He was not into gold. He never heard of Goldman Sacks. He said it would be harder for a rich man to enter heaven as a camel to go through the eye of a needle. DID YOU LISTEN?
Did you feed the homeless in the soup kitchens? Remember the photo on the cover of Time Magazine of the black boy in Biafra with the swollen belly, the one dying of starvation while you chilled a bottle of Chardonnay to go with fish for dinner? Did you listen to His message or were you chatting on Face Book or counting the hits on your blog? Who did you think were your Followers? Would any grab your hand when you floated out the window?
The hundreds of Fema camps placed strategically near the cities to trap the poor like rats/ the waiting guillotines will be buried in silt and mud. The winds will fling crystal fragments that spear the flesh. There will be a steady hum. Tongues of reeds will sway gently in and out of shattered windows. Doors will become floors that lead nowhere. All of glass will not last. Whatever is whole will be broken. Whatever is smooth will crack.
Whales will bump against the walls of high rise buildings and schools of golden fish swish in and out of windows amazed at beds. The spires of cities will rise from the water like broken sticks.
We swim in dark; we cannot see until the veil is lifted.
Call from Scientologist Friend
Hi Terry, It’s me. Marcia. I had to tell you that Scientology has saved my life.
I haven’t heard from you since you left Brattleboro. What’s going on?
Well, for one thing I have no more financial stress.
I live on community property out in Oregon, and in exchange for training I get room and board. I put all my savings into the commune account. And the icing on this cake is I am being cleared.
Cleared of what?
Cleared of all the rubbish in the mind that prevents a person from being self actualized and peaceful, cleared of all the chemicals and poisons the body has absorbed. The trouble with you is that you lost your base.
Life isn’t a baseball game.
Stop clowning around. Your base is your center People laugh at scientology because they don’t understand it. Look at me. I am fifty five years old and could not get a teaching job anywhere. I lost my lover. My father died of lung cancer. Does this bother me? No. Because I have been audited.
By the IRA?
Stop joking around. For once be serious. Auditing is a special process that can’t be described in a few minutes of the phone. Besides, they only give us six minutes on this phone and someone is standing in line behind me. Look, your past drag you down. When you stop reacting to things from your past, you are free. Your senses open like a flower in the sun. I have been audited for six months and I am a different woman. I have more energy. I have given up relationships with people from the outside that drag me down.
You dumped all your friends?
Take it from me. Auditing is the thing and I tried everything. I went through Freudian analysis, Gestalt, Rolfing and Rebirth. My therapist, this bag fat bozo, rolled me on the floor of his office and sat on me and pounded me till I begged for him to stop. Then I went into New York for two weeks of EST. They stuffed us into this huge auditorium, four hundred of us packed in like sardines. This guy got up on the stage and told us we were nothing. We were shits. We were zeros. He got us so we learned to stand up and shout back. We weren’t allowed out of that auditorium to eat or piss or shit. I tried everything in sight because I was looking for something and I’ve found it Scientology is your answer. Let me give you an example. When Jim walked out on me, I cried day and night. I was so nauseous I could not eat a single bite.
Of course. You wanted to marry him.
Not the point, honey. Not the point at all. During auditing I recalled things you would not believe. You remember every detail of your life, things you’re other said when you were in the womb.
If you swear never to tell anyone I will tell you what I learned and this is just the beginning. It’s changing my life. In another four months when I finish Step I. Auditing, I can become a trainer and audit other people. I take courses all day on Saturdays. The last one was How to Listen.
All I do is listen.
I found out that when Jim walked out on me the reason I was torn apart was there is a deep unconscious connection between him and my father.
I told you that years ago. Jim was brilliant even though he was schizo, and your father was a genius, a world famous writer.
I know. But you see when my mother was pregnant with me, my father used to tell her he was walking out because he couldn’t handle the responsibility, so, you see, Jim held me tight like a dog on a leash threatening to leave just like my father did.
So what is happening in these audits?
You keep on talking hour after hour about every childhood memory and feeling until the feelings get erased.
Why would you want them erased?
It’s like hypnosis. I heard the exact words of my father. I swear to God. I heard his voice. The fetus hears, thinks, records and remembers every detail of the parents conscious and unconscious lives. Look, I am sending you a little book called The World of Scientology. They check out mail so I hope you get it. They don’t want us to get contaminated from the outside world. Enroll in a mini weekend course. Get a sense of perspective about not finding jobs. I put you on the mailing list. After auditing I am going through Purification.
You mean a Dionysian rite with severed head of goats and blood?
Terry, for God’s sake. Be serious. They found out through intensive lab testing that I am still affected in every pore in my body by the work IO did as a radiologist in Chicano and by those cortisone shots I got for poison ivy.
But that was thirty years ago.
Listen, do me a big favor. Don’t let anyone we know mutually know what I am up to. People think that Scientology is a cult. They have closed minds. I speak to you freely because I know you are open to new things and this works. I have to get off the phone. When you go into the sauna, you stay put for twelve hours. It removes every single impurity from your body. You see the world fresh through new eyes.
Wait a minute. What did you do with your father’s unfinished manuscript? You were his literary executor.
The camera is my eye. I open and shut the lens. I sweep the horizon clean. It is hard to focus with so much dust. My eyes burn. Focus I must. That is my job. That is what I am paid for and that is why I am here. I turn and all that I see stretching towards the horizon is this endless sea of mud. Another landslide. Another mountain gone in torrents of rain. Another village buried. A strange sight but no stranger than all the other sights I have seen. I turn slowly in a circle as I walk and peer intently through the telephoto lens. The walls of the huts were mud. There are splintered boards, husks of corn, a rusty pipe that was a chimney. AS IF THIS WERE THE GARBAGE OF THE WORLD.
I stand in rain and gulp water from my canteen. It must have sounded like a freight train. Families ran into the street but it made no difference. The wall of mud cascaded down and buried their lives in an instant. No one heard the shouts or screams. I swivel this telephoto lens. Damn it to hell. All I see is mud and ruins. I must fix something in the frame. Wait. There is a pinprick in the distance. I walk towards it AS IF IT WERE MECCA. This is it. The shot always wanted. No other photographer is here. It is a face with splotches of mud. It is a little girl. She can’t be more than five. I move closer. She is buried in mud right up to her chin. She balances on something. I ask what happened. She says her mother and father her sister and brother are underneath. Her hands are caught like fish in a net. She does not ask for help. There is nothing I can do but snap these pictures. Shot after shot after shot. Time stops. The wet mud moves slow like a claw that rakes her skin. She knows she is going to die; it is just a matter of minutes. I stand on firm ground fifty feet from her; there is nothing I can do or I will be dragged under too. Her eyes are wide. She absorbs the world. She wonders who I am and why I hold this thing in my hands that she has never seen with the long snout that glides in and out. I ask her name. She is calm as lake water without a single ripple. “Omyra Sanchez” she says. Her voice echoes like gunshot in the stillness.
They all stare at me as if I am a freak.
Any journalist knows that what bleeds leads. This photograph will make me famous. I snap and snap and snap until she is gone. This is my job. I travel around the world. I work for Time Magazine. I have done this for ten years; I have no more tears. I pretend what I see is a dream. I close the lens. I hear the click. I pick up my canteen.
There it is, the Douglas DC-6 SE-BDY / the instrument of my destruction. The mechanics are doing the last checks of the engines, but men have no knowledge of Divine Intention much less His last minute interventions. This is an ordinary day of September l8 in the Year of Our Lord _1961 and I sit at the airport surrounded by security guards and secret service agents whose eyes swivel like gun turrets in every direction. I will be flying in order to, hopefully, negotiate a peace fire between non combatant United Nations forces and the Katangese troops of Moise Tshombe. I hope for a resolution of the parties involved in this conflict; however, hope is not enough to win the day and seldom does when so many conflicting and powerful forces hold sway. I serve because I am called to serve and (as I have said before) I would rather live my life as if there is a God. A man like me who is an agent of social service may be physically protected but such protection is not absolute; in any case, he can never be protected from himself. When you read this letter, (which I intend to post) remember there are no accidents. There are only intentions.
I have no fear. Perhaps it will be like opening the door to another room, a room I cannot see where the walls open into light. Words, however eloquent, fail to describe a reality of which the human mind cannot conceive. I have no grief. I have done the best I can depending on my knowledge at the time. Everything changes each moment, and one looks back and wishes one could use one’s current wisdom to alter the past, but that is science fiction. That I have failed to do enough is my regret.
I am staring at the glistening black bark of each tree and how the tangled branches form a latticework against the bright blue sky. The yellow and russet maple leaves shimmy with delight. When one says goodbye, the physical world moves closer so the things one never paid much attention to parade before one’s startled eyes.
So here I sit in spite of a lousy night’s sleep. I beg the person who reads this letter, to hand it to a publisher.
If I got down on my hands and knees to plead with the people in my entourage not to board this plane, they would think I lost my mind. After all, I am the Secretary General of the United Nations, the peacekeeping force of the world.
To fly does not guarantee one will arrive. We have no choice as long as we are alive. St.Teresa of Avila referred to man as a worm in the sight of the Divine. We strive but few are blessed to step across the threshold of the first room of the Castle she attempted to describe. All she could say is we carry a spark of the Divine within, we remain loved by Him and nothing He created ever dies. I trust I am not getting maudlin here.
I am tired and lose track of where I am going with this letter and that is because I have been looking at the clock even though I know time is our invention and only succeeds in imposing artificial limitations. There are markers on the way one can discern; each marker leads to the next. You must walk step by step. We are seeds thrust into the dark and land either in torrential rains or scorching sun either in fertile or barren ground from which we must sprout. We must endure the elements and push towards light, skirt around obstacles beyond our wildest imagination. The way a life ends, whether we die in sleep or at the hands of a lunatic or an assassin makes no difference.
Does one fly to a higher dimension or is one called/Is there a summit or conclusion to any of our efforts/ Does it make any difference whether we leave here sooner or later/ I, like you, have had visions in dreams that I did not understand. I have made plans that were destroyed. I have been given and made promises that were broken; I have suffered the loss of love and the ills of flesh.
I know I do not sound modern here but more like a medieval man so I trust you will somehow understand what I attempt to convey. If not, I pray you may find a translator.
We are notes in a song NONE OF US CAN HEAR. I bow my head in gratitude that I have been used in this way to serve His will.
I must board now.
The man in the pale brown linen suit struts across the room. He scratches his head and lights a
Marlboro cigarette.It is so warm he removes his jacket.He is surrounded by maps and charts
and lines and screens. His job is statistical analysis, and he has an M.B.A. from Harvard
and an undergraduate degree from MIT.
It is his job to figure out where the drones should strike to hit the intended target.
The enemy hides in underground tunnels near hospitals and schools. According to his boss
there has been more than enough recent bad press.This is war.
It has been a nine hour day with no break except for a half hour lunch with lousy ham and cheese
sandwiches. He hates that damn mineral water. He rubs his eyes that are red and ache
from the bright florescent lights. His assistants never stop talking. They sound like
It is 8 PM.when he points to a dot on the screen.
A young man with manicured nails hits a button. He yawns.
On the other side of the world a five year old boy runs after a ball that rolls across the
street. Drones have no sound. In an instant he is a mass of flesh and blood.
The man in the pale brown linen suit puts on his coat and walks out the door. He looks
forward to a shot of bourbon with two ice cubes and a medium raw steak.
It was six am
Two men in dirty overalls were digging a hole. They air was cold. One man smoked a cigarette; the other sipped coffee from a paper cup. The men dug. They stopped and peered into the hole. They stopped and dug again.
It was Sunday. Children ran around the streets shouting and laughing and blowing soap bubbles. Red and yellow balloons floated in the air and kites shaped like birds. The weather was perfect, a blue sky and few clouds; the sun sparkled diamonds on the tin roofs of houses. The men who dug stood in the center of a stadium. Someone had put up flags.
When the parade began, all along the route were vendors selling popcorn and cotton candy and orange ices. A heavy iron gate with a lock led into the stadium. TV crews were busy setting up cameras and checking lights. Technicians tested loudspeakers that had to work right because the mayor intended to make an important speech.
The Mayor walked at the head of the parade followed by a wooden wagon pulled by two white horses. Whatever was in the wagon was covered by a blanket. Soldiers with guns walked next to the wagon. They waved at the women and children. Then came the treasurer, the bank manager, and the Chief of Police. They waved at the crowd too and the crowd cheered. Hundreds of families the men the women the children filed slowly behind the officials. They were walking in a dream.
When the Mayor got to the iron gate, he held the key high in the air, unlocked the gate and bowed down low with a flourish. The horses pulled the wagon through and halted in the middle of the stadium. The horses were unhitched and the families ushered in and seated. The stadium was filled to the brim.
The hole was six feet deep and three feet wide. The mayor waved his hand and the audience hushed. He said the law must be followed. Women must wear veils to cover their faces. When they walk in the streets, they must be escorted by men, preferably their husbands or brothers. He pointed to the wagon and said, “This was what happens when the law is broken.”
Four soldiers walked over the wagon and yanked off the blanket where a woman wearing nothing but a sheet lay huddled weeping. The four soldiers yanked her up to face the crowd. In the front row seated on the bench that faced the hole sat the husband and two children. The boy was five and the girl was seven.
When the woman saw them, she screamed. One soldier struck her so hard on the mouth she began to bleed. They dragged her to the hole as if she were a rag. She kept on screaming. They shoved her into the hole and pushed her down till only her head showed above the ground.
She was staring at her family when they hurled the first stone. It went into her right eye. The second stone hit her forehead and opened up a hole bigger than a fist. Still the stones were thrown and thrown and thrown.
The woman had been seen in the street with a strange man. It was rumored they plotted to flee the country.
You must walk
even when you step over severed heads and hands.
Don’t be an idiot
throw out the orange pills
weep for the dead.
Look at the Real Estate section of the papers at homes worth millions of dollars and the six caret diamond rings look at the high rise apartments on Fifth Avenue bought by corrupt politicians for cash.
Did you see the bracelets made of ivory skulls that the rich purchase for amusement?
You must remember the hills of Rio De Janeiro where gangs of boys and girls are shot by cops, kids who never knew a mother or father, kids who are called scavengers and useless and dangerous, kids who eat food from garbage cans and drink polluted water, kids whose parents live in flimsy wooden shacks.
You must picture the people driven in black limousines by chauffeurs the ones who do not dare to carry cash into stores and use credit cards instead the ones surrounded by body guards who live in compounds.
Go to the villages in South America the ones you read about in books the ones that still have no water or electricity the ones where mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers had heads chopped off and no one dared walk by the rivers filled with corpses and body parts.
You must speak of the men the women the children who struggle to cross borders the ones cheated by smugglers who end up dead in the deserts whose hands are cut to shreds when they try to climb the barbed wire fences and when they get over are shot.
Listen to the stories of survivors who were tortured in the prisons. Remember each word they said.
Look at the wings of the birds smeared with oil. See the birds that fall like stones from the sky.
Don’t believe the lies in newspapers or watch CNN. Watch the black planes that spit out bacteria and germs over the cities. Look at the rising deaths from bronchitis and asthma. Connect the dots whether you like it or not.
Walk the aisles of supermarkets where fresh fruit and vegetables are not found and frozen food filled with chemicals are five dollars for a dozen.
Don’t think writers are useless. Trace the money trails that flow across the continents. Remember the experiments done by the CIA. Think how the police in England use electromagnetic pulse to push the ones who are drunk or sick off the streets.
Get up from that ditch where you think you are hidden before you get shot.
Keep on walking no matter what you see.
Anna Akhmatova and Adrienne Rich were not afraid to tell it like it is. History is the needle stuck the grove of a record that repeats a song you do not want to hear the song of war of starvation of hatred of forced marches across deserts of barbed wire of empty camps no one dares to even think about.
Think of yourself as a soldier even though you are a woman, and when you believe words make no difference and no one listens when others huddle in their homes with blinds drawn down and are afraid of a knock on the door just keep on walking.
I tell you once and I will say it again until your listen even if I have to shout to make you hear. Get up and walk and keep on walking no matter what you see or hear.
The one in the ditch is found and shot. Sooner or later.
Nationality makes no difference. We are all refugees in a boat far out at sea and the borders of the countries we need to enter are closed. The ones who learned the lessons of history are dead.
Were you thinking it would make a difference if you did not speak?
You lived your whole life in illusion. You were never different.
January 19, 1993 — Four Part Poem
Montauk, Long Island, Atlantic Terrace Motel
a shadow passed over in the morning mist
the angels the divas the spirits the sacred.
Snug in our bed a bottle of gin and Blake on the nightstand
we recited Walt Whitman
browning our bodies to perfection on the empty beach.
It seemed so simple in love with love.
Clever words sliced air like shining scimitars.
When the shadow passed over the sun in the morning mist, there was a purple
chill in the air. I shivered and wrote a poem called After Eden unfinished thirty years.
Dear Stephen Michael,
It felt like the shadow of a great wing, the wing of the Archangel Michael. I pictured Adam and Eve two frightened children driven from the Garden of Eden by the flaming sword forced to roam the world like orphans, to spend a lifetime wandering under the shadow of that wing. Never to be able to return. How after the gate was closed and locked, everything silver tarnished.
25 years later I stand by the gate.
The woman in Li Po’s poem waited year after year for her lover.
Extracts from the forthcoming book: Traveling, A Perspective
© Toni Ortner
All Rights Reserved
Read earlier editions of this column in The Archive
Information About The Columnist...
Toni Ortner is a poet and author who lives in Brattleboro, Vermont. She has 16 books that have been published by fine small presses, 14 of which are poetry books. She is Vice President of the Write Action Board that supports writers in New England through readings and other events.She gives readings at Vermont libraries and bookstores and read at the Brattleboro Literary Festival. Her work has appeared frequently at vermontviews.org and she has had numerous articles published in The Commons.
Tune in the fourth Sunday of each month at 5 pm for the Write Action Radio Hour on WVEW FM, l07 or go to www.wvew.org
"Launch Audio Player" in the upper right hand corner and streaming will begin.. Toni interviews innovative writers and they read their work.
Word Tech Communications, CW Books
Fractured Woman by Toni Ortner utilizes the prose poem to confront the urgent social, political and environmental events of our times. In "Report on Easter Sunday from the Third Planet from the Sun" the writer responds to the devastation caused by climate change, acts of terrorism, war, starvation, and the plight of fleeing refugees. Instead of being overwhelmed and fractured by the magnitude of these tragic events, the reader is asked to sit in stillness and hear the Voice that has no words for the flames of faith shine steady on the darkening shores of the world.
In 2018 Kelsay Press will publish Giving Myself Over to J.S.Bach
Deerbrook Editions will produce Daybook I. (Many sections of which are in this column)
Word Tech Communications is producing Fractured Woman and also End Rhymes for End Times.
Writing Shiva available from Amazon
Writing Shiva is a fast-moving, drily humorous memoir about growing up as a Jewish girl during World War II in Woodmere, Long Island where the struggle to assimilate contrasts with the deep family ties and cultural roots that even illness and death cannot sever
Currents We Never Dream Of
The closest one might get to define the genre would be prose poetry. This is a spiritual journey yet so much more. It explores the currents that run beneath conscious awareness that can only be accessed through dreams, hypnosis or meditation. The words flow smoothly then twist and turn unexpectedly. The reader who is drawn in reads more closely. Insights startle. The book confronts us with stories, dreams, and myths that we must answer instead of neat contrived endings. Although at times it is unnerving or startling, you will never be bored.
The book is available as an e book from Smash words, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Kindle.
It was published by Moon Publishing.
This book honors famous women, writers, artists and visionaries of the 20th century as well as ordinary women who were innocent victims of war and genocide. A special section is devoted to Lyn Lifshin and there are poems about women in relationships.
This book is available as an e book from Smash words, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Kindle.
It was published by Moon Publishing
The Water Poems
An elegant pink water lily floats on the cover of the Water Poems by Toni Ortner. This beautiful book contains 24 clear poems that have appeared in literary magazines. Toni’s work alters to record and encompass what is, so this book among l6 others proves unique. Like thoughts, water is never still but breathes deeply altered by wind and air. The surface of water reflects what is… as does the mind of the poet. Objects sink like fading history. Translucent feathers whirl. A leaf floats momentarily. Since everything changes, islands we dreamed of are never reached. Waters flows without thought carrying whatever it will. Tides rise and fall pulled by the moon. Dreams and reality merge in a shimmer light.
This book is available as an e book from Smash words, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Kindle.
It was published by Moon Publishing.
This book deals with the choices we make and how these choices sometimes put us in jeopardy with ourselves.
It can be purchased directly from The Finishing Line Press by going to the online site of the press or from Barnes & Noble, amazon.com, Kobo, and Kindle. This book is in paperback as well as an e book.
The Ides of March Poems: Early Selected Poems
The poems in this book have appeared in literary journals. The book can be purchased at iuniverse.com, barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com and is available as an e book and paperback.
In this inspiring book, six famous women reveal the spiritual revelations that summoned them to act and alter their lives to change history. The women are: Joan of Arc, Saint Teresa of Avila, Marie Curie, Rachel Carson, Mother Teresa, and Elisabeth Kubler- Ross. Hearing the first person voices of these women makes history come alive.
The book contains an extensive bibliography and blank note pages for the reader to jot down thoughts.
The book can be purchased directly from Goose River Press online and is available at amazon.com and other sites.