Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Landlocked Life

Weeki Wachi Springs

This morning I met Moye at a neighborhood pastry place for a belated birthday breakfast. She stuck a candle in the bunch of hair that I had pinned to the top of my head, and then we lit it and I burst into flames and disappeared. Just kidding. Well, that wasn't funny, really. We actually sat down and drank delicious coffee, ate this incredible concoction of bread, exotic sauteed mushrooms and eggs and shared some divine confection -- a cannelle, I think it was, all crispy caramelized on the outside and eggy soft in the center. We talked about our children and shared some memories of our high school years (we grew up together in Atlanta!) and we laughed together like we always do. She gave me a beautiful bracelet/necklace that I promptly wrapped around my wrist and a wonderful little book of poetry called Poems of the American South from the Everyman's Library Pocket Poets series. She wrote a beautiful inscription inside in her inimitable gorgeous handwriting, drawing my attention to the poems inside that include mermaids, Tar Heels and tender mercies. Thank you, Moye, for your years of friendship, for your sense of humor, your support, your beauty and your inspired art.

September 11th is always a sombre day -- isn't it? Our minds inevitably go back to where we were and how we heard and how we led our lives in those days following. There's a tyranny to sorrow, isn't there? What we are almost required to feel or remember? I'm always struck, on this day, by the strange paradox of the Never Forget communal imperative juxtaposed with the get over it mentality we place on individual loss. It's something I think about, particularly in regard to my friends who've lost a child or suffered some other big loss. There's a tyranny to sorrow, isn't there -- or at least a manufactured order to it.

I was going to post a poem on this somber day of Adam Zagajewski's -- a poem that I've posted before that I think is entirely appropriate, but instead I'll give you the link and post the mermaid poem from the book that Moye gave me.

It's all we can do, really.

Try to Praise the Mutilated World by Adam Zagajewski

My First Mermaid

In Florida, where these things happen,
we stopped at the last roadside attraction.

In a small theater decorated with mold,
behind a curtain sagging like seaweed,

a wall of glass held back a wall of water.
And there, in the springs, a woman in a bikini top

and Lycra fish tail held an air hose to her lips
like a microphone. What was she waiting for?

Into the great open bowl of the springs
a few fish drifted. They looked at the two of us.

They shook their heads and their bodies rippled.
Air bubbles shimmered in the filtered sun,

each a silver O racing to the surface to break.
We'd missed the day an unscripted underwater blimp

of a manatee wobbled into view. The gray, whiskered lard
of a sea cow or the young woman who sang --

lip-synched, rather -- some forgettable song,
her lipstick waterproof: which was the real mermaid?

Given the weight of the water, nothing happens fast
to a mermaid, whether it's love or loss.

Not like the landlocked life, I wanted to warn her.
But here came a prince in street clothes,

trying to think thoughts that were heavy enough
to make himself sink to her level. His shirt ballooned,

a man turned not to a merman but a manatee.
Yet, in the small eternity it took for him

to grasp her greasy flipper, for her to find
his more awkward human ankle, and then

for them to turn, head over each other's heels --
a ring rolling away, too beautiful to catch --

they lived happily ever after.
Until one of them had to stop for breath.

Debora Greger (1949-)


  1. How many times have I seen that underwater ballet myself? That very one with the mermaid and the lipstick and the prince and the billowing shirt and never once have I thought to make it into a metaphor for anything- merely fell into enchantment, even as I could smell that mold, even as I looked around at my own friends, my children, now even my grandchildren, to see if they were as enchanted as I.
    There IS a tyranny to the sort of national sorrow. There is and I resent it. There. I've said it.
    I'd rather remember mermaids. We all run out of breath eventually.

  2. I am glad you got to celebrate beautiful you on this day. I remember a man I met, an Israeli, told me once that in Israel they'd never memorialize a tragedy like 9/11. It only invited other zealots to try to top it he said. He thought America was very shortsighted to keep the sorrow eternally alive.

  3. "Given the weight of the water nothing happens fast..." I love, especially, part II. and the weight upon us all from such things as not forgetting, as though we could, 9/11 and being surrounded it seems by burdensome, needless unkindness when all we want in a bit of beauty and love and enough air. There is a tyranny of so much it seems, so many scolding fingers in our startled faces. I would much rather think of mermaids or pastry or the way our air conditioning unit masks so much of the neighborhood sound. The poem is such a fitting gift, what a special friend. xo

  4. Sept. 11, indeed a horrible, horrible day. I think of those on the planes and those in the buildings and the firefighters. And the families.
    I do not underestimate the awfulness of it by saying that bigger tragedies than this occur every day around the world and yet no one calls those tragedies the day the world changed. And for sure it has changed. But the patriotic Americanism of it all makes me sad and at times, sick.
    I remember when I mentioned the subsequent bombings in Iraq - she said, 'what, you mean the payback?"

  5. oops, she is a friend in Virginia.

  6. Jimi Hendrix - "1983, A merman I Should Turn to Be"

  7. I love the Weeki Wachee poem! I need to look for that poetry book.

    You know, I literally did not think of 9/11 at all this year. Partly because I'm not in the states, so I'm sure the reminders were fewer -- but still, it's interesting how thoroughly it escaped my consciousness. I'm not sure it's a good thing. But maybe it is.

  8. I understand the morbid impulse to memorialize the day. I survived the Loma Prieta earthquake, and it devastated my town and my house. It was traumatic. It took at least a decade for me to not revisit that event in detail every year. So, I get it. But still, I, too, and a tad uncomfortable with the in-depth revisitation of 9/11. Whatcha gonna do?

  9. The tyranny of sorrow. How does one depose this tyrant? A people's uprising of linked arms? An assassin's bullet. I don't know, but I suppose that when one has suffered under a terrible tyrant that even when freed, some part of the spirit is still constrained. So yes, you've put it just right with that phrase. And yes, why do we want to remember the big event while demanding a finite end to that individual grief. What a good question.



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