Task of a Poet

“To hear never-heard sounds,
To see never-seen colors and shapes,
To try to understand the imperceptible
Power pervading the world;
To fly and find pure ethereal substances
That are not of matter
But of that invisible soul pervading reality.
To hear another soul and to whisper to another soul;
To be a lantern in the darkness
Or an umbrella in a stormy day;
To feel much more than know.
To be the eyes of an eagle, slope of a mountain;
To be a wave understanding the influence of the moon;
To be a tree and read the memory of the leaves;
To be an insignificant pedestrian on the streets
Of crazy cities watching, watching, and watching.
To be a smile on the face of a woman
And shine in her memory
As a moment saved without planning.”

DEJAN STOJANOVIC

Painting: Venus Veiling Pandora by Charles Courtney Curran

Fiction: Is Life a Curse?

Following in the footsteps of a murdered artist, William is thrilled … and a little scared.

“Um, what happened to the other fellow—the last artist?” William asked.

“He was killed,” the missionary said his eyes welling with tears.

“Oh damn. I’m sorry,” William said. Maybe things would get dangerous. A sickening thrill ran up his spine. He had nothing to lose.

“None of us could bear to replace him for a long time, but none of us are Michelangelo either.”

“Neither am I!” William didn’t want to get their hopes up.

“You’ll be fine. It’s just . . . well, Ignatius . . . he was unbelievable. It was an incredible loss for us and really put my faith to the test. It’s easy to be bitter at times.”

“Yes, life can be a curse,” William said.

“Life is NEVER a curse! Ignatius is in a better place after all.”

William rolled his eyes.

“What?” Kenyon asked.

“It’s kind of childish to believe that, don’t you think? My sister died, and she’s just gone. That’s what I believe now,” William replied.

“Now?”

“No, I mean that’s the way it is,” William said.

“You know, some folks think they feel their loved ones after death.”

“Yeah, I had that as a kid, but it was just me wishing.” William missed Eliza as much as he always had. “If I ever have children, I want a girl.”

“That’s sad.”

“Yes, it’s more than sad,” William replied. “We never talked about her much—my father did a little—the only thing he did right! I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I have to go now. You know where to find me if you still want me. Thanks again and good night and all.”

William raced across the street to The Buckskin and ordered a proper drink. Was he out of his mind? No, he would not go with a bunch of hypocritical, pompous missionaries.

So what if he was comfortable here in this squalor? He ignored the fact that if he didn’t come up with cash soon he’d be thrown from his room. After a few hours, blind drunk and cut off, William stumbled back to his home. His belongings were piled out front. “Shit,” he cursed as he tripped on something and made for the door to find it bolted shut. He pounded and shouted oaths, but no one listened.

And so morning came with William curled on the landing.

“William Weldon, wake up!”

He sat up pale and bleary-eyed, forgetting where he was. “Oh. Mr. Kenyon.”

William had nothing to say. Right now he didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything, but he made his way down to the little pile of his things.

Kenyon found William’s Bible.

“Oh, that,” William said as he stood up, stretched and scratched his matted hair.  “It was my Uncle Simon’s—he’s gone now. Killed by Indians. You want it? I never look at it.”

“I would never take a family heirloom,” Kenyon said, handing it over. “Someday you may want to pass it down to your daughter. Was your uncle religious?”

“Land sakes, no! He was great!”

The missionary laughed. “William, tell me, do you often sleep under the stars?”

“No, never. I’ve been evicted from my lovely little home.”

“It’s perfect timing then. We need to have you sobered up before you meet the others. Come and eat,” Kenyon said.

“Others?” William looked past the missionary. “You eat a lot, don’t you? I’m not hungry.”

The missionary helped William gather his things, sifting through his new artist’s vermin-infested belongings in disgust. William struggled to stand straight.

“Mr. Kenyon, I guess I really don’t need any of this. Probably it won’t impress your friends to see that you’ve brought a vagabond.”

Kenyon looked relieved. “So you don’t want any of it?”

William pulled a threadbare shirt his mother had made from the pile. “Just this. I should bring at least a change of shirts.” He shoved it into his dirty haversack.

Kenyon cleared his throat.

“I have a few errands, Mr. Weldon.”

“Call me Bill if you want to,” William said with a quick glance before lighting a half smoked cigar.

Kenyon smiled at William’s tentative attempt at familiarity. “Anyway, you’re welcome to use my room to clean up. I’m staying at the brothel house over there.”

William laughed.

“I know, I know!” Kenyon said waving the laughter off. “During the day it’s so quiet and as respectable looking as any other place here. I got confused. Obviously I understood my error when night rolled round. There was a terrible scene with a poor girl disfigured by the pox and a drunkard,” Kenyon said.

“What happened?” William fished through his jacket, feeling for Thankful’s watch in his pocket.

“Nothing much in the end, thank God. I may not be young anymore, but I can stand against a drunk fairly well. I guess I’m hero of the whorehouse now—the perfect time to move on.” Kenyon said.

The missionary handed William the key and some money.

“What’s this for?”

“Consider it an advance, William—maybe you’d consider buying new clothes.” Kenyon tipped his hat and walked off to Matilda’s.

William turned toward the whorehouse not wanting to see Ginny. He cleared his throat and spit before slipping into the hotel and tiptoeing up the creaking stairs, almost turning left on the landing toward Ginny’s room by force of habit.

The key slid into the hole, but the door was jammed. William tried to jiggle it free quietly, but in the morning stillness his noises magnified. He heard Ginny’s door open, and groaned to himself. In the dim light, with her blonde hair hanging over her violet wrapper, Ginny almost looked pretty as she came to him. William felt broken-hearted. Why couldn’t he love her?

Ginny embraced him, running her fingers through his hair before whispering in his ear. “Billy, I’m terrible sorry about all I said.” She pushed him aside and opened Kenyon’s door. “Why are you going in this room?” she asked.

“Mr. Kenyon is a missionary and . . .”

Ginny laughed. “Oh yes, and I’m a nurse.”

“No, really he is and I’ve been hired on to work for him,” William said.

“By Alice?” Ginny asked. All work in this house came through Alice.

“No,” William replied. “No, I’m washing up, and then I’ll go meet his associates.”

“Associates? Where? Down the hall?” she laughed. “Billy, you still don’t know the way of the world yet, do you?”

William scratched his rib with a sigh. “Maybe you’re right. A missionary staying here? I guess I wanted to believe . . .”

Ginny pulled him into the room and kissed him. “Poor Billy, come sit beside me.”

“No, he’ll be back soon.”

She ran her hand over his unshaven face. “Let me take care of you. You need more than a good washing, but a shave and a haircut too.”

“No, Ginny, I don’t deserve your help.”

She went over to Kenyon’s small bag and found a pair of scissors. She turned back to him, her wrapper loose and her one arm still in its sling. As she snipped the long, gold locks, William grabbed her around the waist. Ginny was so soft and familiar, and he was afraid of everything else.

Ginny clipped away months of unclean living. Her robe slipped off, and she straddled him. “See how much I love you?”

William wasn’t sure how any of this was love. After a big night of drinks he always longed for sex, but remembered Ginny’s words about his performance and made no moves on her. He pulled the money from his pocket. “You can have it, Ginny. I owe you.”

Ginny tucked the money into her corset. Just then there was a knock at the door.

“William Weldon, it’s me,” called Kenyon.

When William didn’t respond, Kenyon opened the door to find Ginny moving off William. She greeted Kenyon casually. “Mr. Kenyon, I wanted to thank you again fer getting me out of a pickle the other night.”

“By having intercourse with this young man? I don’t see the connection,” Kenyon responded. “William, I wouldn’t have expected you to take advantage of my generosity.”

“How do I know that you aren’t taking advantage of me?” William asked, his shoulders covered with tufts of hair.

The missionary asked Ginny to leave but with amused eyes. Kenyon picked up a few books and his writing implements, tucking them into a suitcase before latching it shut. He looked William over. “Land sakes, what did you let that girl do to you?” He laughed, shaking his head. “Clean up all that hair before some story gets out that I perform strange rituals.”

“Do you?” William asked.

“Mr. Weldon, in what way could I possibly take advantage of you? As you said yourself, you have nothing.” Kenyon laughed again.

William’s face went red. “It’s just that Ginny—well—she guessed that you were up to no good—after all—this is a brothel.”

“I explained that. I never said I was particularly observant,” Kenyon said. He checked his watch. “The others should be here this morning. I’m going to wait for them outside the church.” He grabbed his bags and walked out.

William continued to pick his hair off the ratty blankets on the bed.

“Mr. Weldon, are you coming or not?”

William jumped up, tripping on the leg of the bed. “Oh, I didn’t think you’d still want me to . . .”

“When I’ve had enough of you, I’ll let you know,” Kenyon joked, but saw that the bone-thin William didn’t like it. “Let’s get you some clothes, son.”

William went white. “I-I lost the money.”

“In forty-five minutes? How?”

William scratched his sunburned, dry scalp and loose hair fell like a spring shower. He looked at his shoes. “Sir, I’m afraid I lied. I gave the money to Ginny.”

“You couldn’t control yourself long enough to forgo fornication for clothes?” Kenyon asked.

“No, it’s not that. I owed her—she’s been my friend and good to me—mostly.”

Kenyon rolled his eyes. “So you saved nothing for yourself.”

William shook his head and chanced a glance at Kenyon.

“William Weldon, you’d make a fine missionary then.” He joked but grew more serious. “Son, I don’t ever abide by liars or thieves. It’s troubling that your first impulse was to lie.”

“I’m not a liar.”

“I don’t believe that you want to be, William, and this is only a friendly, but serious, warning. If I find you in a lie, I will cut you loose right quick. Out in dangerous territory all of us must be able to rely upon each other in word and deed.”

William wanted adventure and could not stay in town any longer, but didn’t for a second believe the missionary could be relied on. He tried to hide his unbelief, but Kenyon saw it and made another mental note. He wondered if William might be tougher than the Indians to win over.

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“Rich and colorful page turners. Morris has a fine sense of time and place and brings her memorable characters to life. She also tells a captivating story. You won’t find it easy to put her book down, and her characters will stay with you when you do. We can only hope she keeps writing and gives us more episodes in this fascinating chronicle.”

“The lovers bear the dual burden of Adam and Eve and of Moses. They see the promised land in their longing’s imagination and enter it only to be expelled from it. Behold the lovers who find in their embrace the illusion of complete union and in fleeting moments even its reality, only to awaken alone in the embrace of another lover.” Hans Morgenthau

Leonard Campbell Taylor, Persuasion, 1914.

Leonard Campbell Taylor, Persuasion, 1914.

 

Loneliness: Power and Love

29. Unknown Artist, LOC - Country Courtship, mid 19th Century

Country Courtship, Library of Congress

 

“Of all creatures, only man is capable of loneliness because only he is in need of not being alone, without being able in the end to escape being alone. It is that striving to escape his loneliness which gives the impetus to both the lust for power and the longing for love, and it is the inability to escape that loneliness, either at all or for more than a moment, that creates the tension between longing and lack of achievement, which is the tragedy of both power and love.

In that existential loneliness man’s insufficiency manifests itself. He cannot fulfill himself, he cannot become what he is destined to be, by his own effort, in isolation from other beings. The awareness of that insufficiency drives him on in search of love and power. It drives him on to seek the extension of his self in offspring—the work of his body; in the manufacture of material things—the work of his hands; in philosophy and scholarship—the work of his mind; in art and literature—the work of his imagination; in religion—the work of his pure longing toward transcendence.” Hans Morgenthau

READ MORGENTHAU’S great essay Love and Power at COMMENTARY MAGAZINE

Music and Love

American composer Edward MacDowell fell in love and married Marion his piano student while both were living in Germany. Finances caused them to return to the States and eventually buy a farm in New Hampshire where Edward would write some of his most romantic and beloved pieces of music. Critics and the public adored him.

MacDowell composed a piano piece titled

MacDowell composed a piano piece titled “Cradle Song”, Marian suffered an illness that resulted in her being unable to bear children.

In 1904 a Hansom Cab ran over Edward which seemed to contribute to growing dementia and failing health possibly due to tertiary syphilis. Lawrence Gilman, a contemporary, described him: “His mind became as that of a little child. He sat quietly, day after day, in a chair by a window, smiling patiently from time to time at those about him, turning the pages of a book of fairy tales that seemed to give him a definite pleasure, and greeting with a fugitive gleam of recognition certain of his more intimate friends.” Wikipedia

The composer at rest.

The composer at rest.

His dying wish was for a colony of musicians to delight in the magic of the little farm Marion had bought. Marion sought and found help in the form of The MENDELSSOHN GLEE CLUB which raised money to help the MacDowells. Friends launched a public appeal to raise funds for his care; among the signers were Andrew Carnegie, JP Morgan and Grover Cleveland.

Marion cared for her husband until his death and founded THE MACDOWELL COLONY. She resumed her piano career and  spent the rest of her life traveling and lecturing to support her husband’s dream.

Drunks

A top the moral high ground!

A top the moral high ground!

I’ve had my fair share of less than stellar drunken moments running with the fast crowd and trying to keep up with my boyfriends’ drinking. And then my husband’s drinking. Such was life in the 20th century. Men and women were equals. “Anything you can do, I can do better,” was my hidden mantra when the boys came round.

Yet, looking back my father was right. Nothing good comes of a girl out past 12 in a saloon. Dancing on a slippery bar and crashing down with the hanging glasses  almost landed a friend in the hospital. How many places in Hoboken were we banned from? I can’t remember.

Now what does this have to do with history? For a brief shining moment in America there came upon the land the Cult of Womanhood. People nowadays look on this period as the ultimate joke against women. They think that the sinister members of the patriarchy, rubbing their hands together viciously,  devised a way in which women could be fooled into actually believing that their role in society mattered. They forced women to think that they  were an integral part of bringing forth a civilized nation. (Note: should one sex be more moral than the other?)

Of course women did drink and get knocked up and all, but the point was that in general they were to be the torch-bearers of the high ground and were to pass it on to the next generation. You see how devious this plan was? Women kinda fell for it (even as the very few smart ones saw through it and worked for free love and the right to wear pants).

A lot of women thought being with the kids felt right and that working in a coal mine wasn’t appealing. Many thought politicians were swine and were happy to steer clear of the pig pen. While they mourned the loss of their men in battle, most didn’t want to join them. Some will say the men were just throwing the women a bone whilst they went off to do real things like make war (and do boyish things like play video games in their pajamas all day).

Notice the stereotypical drunk face (code Irish).

Notice the stereotypical drunk face (code Irish).

There were women who bucked the whole marriage and family thing and were looked upon warily until they proved their mettle. They edited newspapers, traveled the world and became spies, etc. People like to say men don’t respect women, but do women respect men? Aren’t we all a bit self-righteously pointing fingers most of the time? Do we live in a fantasy land that says women are as strong as men until they get knocked out by a drunken football player? Or that women can get drunk and high and accuse all men of gang rape? Or that teenaged boys will consider sex with a hot teacher rape? Haven’t men and women been abdicating responsibility for their actions by blaming the other sex for centuries?

None of us want the moral high ground anymore. That’s for suckers. We want to do as we please and call it some form of sublime equality instead of a race to the gutter. We’re all only one sloppy drunk night away from killing someone on the rode to our “rights.” Men and women sit equally on the bar stools. We have our rights. We want more rights. But do we have love?

The waters are muddy once the intoxication wears off. Temperance women were laughed at and their battle lost. Some went on to fight for rights and others went quietly home to their husbands (some of them good and some of them bad). Rights are about me. Love is about you. Which am I willing to I fight for?