Saturday, May 28, 2016

                                 

                                     Continue


Continue to practice the remembrance of the good.
     
     So should we all.
     How like us to be discouraged by human
     Error, by slippage of the DNA.
     We are all alike 
     Scourged at the core, 
     There
     Where heart's affections,
     Grace and Election,
     Sinners' afflictions, Doubter's
     Redress and Pilgrim's progress 
     fail us as never before.

        Burned by the same rope,
     Cut by he same paper,
     Bitten by the same invisible fleas,
     We can easily lose heart and hope

Or continue to practice the remembrance of the good.

     Remember the gentle smile of the small nun:
     Her fealty a kind of purity,
     Her vows a consecration of purpose 
     To shrewd disguise and pragmatic bravery.
     Mother superior, courage like the flame
     She became, not to be consumed by hopelessness. 
     Saving the very God from evil.
     Rescuing from extinction a possible faith.
     
     Remember one who walked bemused, alert
     To nature's guidebook, who bending down  
     In the park to retrieve a single feather, found 
     Grace in the colors of a marvellous wing;
     One whose fealty knew the Act of Creation, who
     Espied God in nature's Architecture, 
     Care detecting
     In nature's Art. 

     If
     
     Purity of Heart 
     Is to Will One Thing
     There in the North where abstract terror 
     Gave birth to Century's nightmare.
     And in the East where the innocent lined up 
     By the shores of the Danube,

     There where the Christian world seemed
     Absolutely in Lucifer's grip,
     And the sway of Ahriman and the
     Devils of dissolution  
     Daunted many a weary mind,

     Redemption came through rescue
     Of the children who would be saved.
     Courage of simple farmers
     Who added a daughter or son;
     Courage of parents releasing children
     To protection of nuns.

Continue to practice remembrance of the good.
     So should we all.
     Praise to the rescuers
     Is due.
     
     But let us remember too
     The goodness of children
     Who had to learn and 
     Unlearn their catechism.
     Come early, come late
     They learned to be True.
     For them another sense to saving,
     To camouflage. To gratitude.
     Not to rescue Christendom,
     Nor wrest from death beatitudes,
     Not to salvage the doctrine of Election 
     Nor goad the faithful to Confession. 
     For them another lesson: 
     Elusive: for the few:
     What it meant, and means, to each and every one 
     To be a Jew.

 Continue to practice the remembrance of the good.
          So should we all.
     
 Not to be discouraged by human
     failings,
     Not to be 
     Scoured by evil, 

by treachery and war.
     Not to despise the frailty
     That haunts our human core.
     Of  these default positions
       We can easily lose heart and hope

Or continue to practice the remembrance of the good.

    
    

      
    

     
     
      
    
        

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Same River

                 Black Tiles

Slotted into a wooden tray with a rim
Ero-ded
Ero-dead yet
Traceable by  thumb and index:
Clickety-clack
Don't come back.
Each ceramic wafer drops into place.
Iron wheels in the railyard six stories down
Triangulate the rhythm of the heart.

Any old iron? 
Calls the man with the cart,
Jolly with his pert Jack Russell and the
Prepossessed collie in tow, pans' din advertising 
A circus act, dance on a ball, courtly bow:
That little charmer is all-in: exposing a
Sturdy heart of self-immolating loyalty,
Monk on fire for his master.

Any old glass?
Panes worn like sandwich board
On a freckled ten year-old,
Red-headed,
Advertising buffalo meat
In North Dakota.

Vitriers!
A shout-out in the
Black-and-white street below.
On the threshhold white shadows.
Beatles progress against 
Bars of light, a 
Coin-tossing
Zebra-crossing.

Vitriers!
Windows squeak ingress
And egress, urbanity's
Congress illustrated on  
Pages dog-eared by time.
Memory's archive, humanity's

Time-release, 
Pre-set
By an absent Auteur.
Collective exhalation
Releasing the future,
Opening and closing  
Shutters.
Fresh air roiling crowded molecules:
Stupidities chased by oxygen, there

Where Orpheus reached out
To liquify with fingertips
That most opaque of boundaries,
Mirror to mercury.

Any old iron?
Don't do it Anna! 
It's over, 
Industry and the Age
Of fossil fuels,
Crushing joy
Between wheels.

Clickety-clack,
Come on back.

Black tiles painted with 
Daubs,
Glued to a frame
Carried back from France
Unbroken:
Something for the house and
Seed-packets
For the garden.

Bride or musician bereft,
Honor's theft, 
Beguilement's
Device, cut and splice
You can't cross the same threshhold twice.

Words to water,
Paste from rice.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Custom Made




Will there be carpenters in heaven?


Will there be carpenters in heaven?
Will there be architects?
Will they build temples and palaces
With wide windows and generous atriums
To let in the light?

Oh let in the light.



Will they lay wood floors and decks,
Build spiral stairways with wrought iron railings
For our going up and our coming down?
Will they lay brick paths
For our insubstantial feet?

Oh make a path for our feet.



Will there be designers
To mount the invisible patterns
We live inside of ––
To raise the
Scaffolding so grandly enfolding
We rarely see it?
Will there be designers to inscribe
Small patterns on our clothes and plates,
On our furniture, walls, and ceilings?
Stripes and plaids and houndstooth and chevrons,
Diamonds and webs and phalanxes and skeins,
Parquet and inlay, scrolls and meanders?
Designs that remind
Us of Earth



Oh remind us of Earth.

Will there be plumbers
To channel running water
For our baths and showers
For our pulsing jets, our jacuzzis,
Our basins, fountains and pools?
Will there be plumbers to give us water
In the kitchen, in the sink full of dishes,
Water filling the toilet tank,
And water in the bidet?
Water for cleanliness and sex
And tired feet


Oh bathe my tired feet.

Will there be electricians?
Will there be grand glassy
Candelabra? Will we have
Startling, theatrical floodlights,
Old-fashioned lanterns in the yard,
Dimmers then for dining,
When we eat in company?


And later when our need is for solitude
Will there be bright lamps for reading?
And when we depart
And when we arrive late,
Long after the designated hour,
Will there be windowpanes
Glowing in dark of night
Guiding us electrically
To home and hearth,
As fire once did
When we lit wax candles,
Placing them there in the window frame?

Oh place me a guiding light.






Will there be painters
Painting our moods
On interior walls 
In the rooms of our intimacy?
Retentive blue for calm,
Kelly Green for prosperity,
Orange like sudden horns
Blaring proclamations:
Festive fuchsia: tropical, wild,
Gentle lavender for teatime,
Red for the room of a child,
Off-white for business,
Gray for industry;



Yellow and gray for sunshine
On a cloudy day.





Will there be painters

To paint our exteriors
In acceptable hues?
And from deep in childhood memory
The one house or two
You walked past to school
And on the way home:
That pink or purple house
That stood on its own?



Will there be painters to paint
Pictures to hang on our walls?
Landscapes and seascapes
And cityscapes withal?
Skylines and lines of traffic,
Lines of people too,
Queues for buying, for
Making selections,
Queues for flying and

Voting in elections?

Will there be painters
To picture each of us who
Once were human
Dwelling in the body of
Man or Woman?
Replicas of our
Eyes :
Windows of the soul,
Our famished faces,
Soft bellies,
Dancing feet
Tender hands,
Necklaces and earrings,
Colored bands,
The manners and graces,
The fabrics and laces
Of our many lands.

Oh paint our many lands.

Will there be computers in heaven?
Computers for commuters,
Laptops for Agitprop,
Blurbs in the suburbs?


Will there be iPods for demi-gods?
Search engines on vagrant stars?
Websites about Malachite, Stalagmites and
Mars? 

Will there be
Satellites using megabytes
Of data stored pro rata
In blue transparent jars?



Will there be
I-pads for granddads?
Mobile phones for Net crossbones,
Video games for Jameses and Janes,
Self-driving cars in slow and fast lanes?
Social media with links to Internet  
Encyclopedias, wikis writ in
Open source code, composed in sly 
Abodes
For Geeks up creeks without
Paddles: addled, yes rattled, and
Saddled with too much fuss;
Embattled, embittered, straddling streams
Of information packets, reams
Of phrases inside and out
Of brackets; compressed lyrics
And video themes
Resembling dreams,
Unreal pixelated animation schemes,
Gyrating shapes riding light’s airtight
Sunbright color beams.

If not this, then what will be?
For we’ve grown up, humanity,
Content no more with
Misty promises,
Backlit scenes,
Vague pictures,
Sentimental memes.

If not to a world that’s made
For us,
Finite and created,
What purpose in our coming
There, early or belated?

If not to a world that’s scaled
To us,
What purpose
Our lives hereafter?

The heavenly house it seems
Belongs to our fondest
Earthly dreams.







       






Sunday, August 16, 2015

Astral Imaginings


Imagining 3-D Grace


Imagine other worlds where "human" emotions are bright, transparent, and optimal for every relationship; the touch of another's soul is always light; another's friendship is always lighthearted, and levity and wisdom are common possessions. 
 
Sakuntala

There is no falling in love because we already love one another before we meet.
                                   

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution


An equality of souls pervades in so inclusive a way that none go wanting, yet we may choose to belong to aristocracies of feeling and experience if our need is to entertain and be entertained.





The law is sacred but may be transgressed with playfulness and humor.



 
Mariana Trench


The world is wide open and sufficiently uncharted to provide for modes of exploration un-guessed-at on Earth.



Thomas Alva Edison



Interplanetary societies have need of ingenuity, resourcefulness, and invention.



     
School of Athens


Learning rewards our efforts and continuously transforms our understanding.





The godhead is immanent, inhering in every blade of grass, every drop of water.



Ziggurat


The godhead is transcendent, calling to us from Beyond.






Family Portrait


All familial relationships have passed through the Valley of the Shadow and have undergone the healing that comes with Time.





Leonardo da Vinci Vatruvian Man


We are individuals, separate and distinct.










Whether we have aims and goals or simply aim to grow, our mode is growth, exploration, and change. 





Development, an unfolding of our capacities, sets the pattern for our activities in youth and age.






 All our lives we continue to plan and develop, to harness our dreams, to create. 



 


We live deep in time, but we are aware of Timelines, Life cycles, Anniversaries, Almanacs and Calendars.


Life is purposeful; but Time is no more.
                                   
Description: https://ssl.gstatic.com/ui/v1/icons/mail/images/cleardot.gif

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Unanswered Letters


                 

Morgan Forster's Sitting Room



               Remember the time we stood laughing like small children
                   Caught in the rain and they took our photograph
                                                                                   

                                                     
Kate Wolf


                                                                               Tuesday, June 2, 2015

 Love of my Life,

            They played Kate Wolf at your Campus Memorial, singing “Great Love of My Life,” and as we were walking out of the room there in the Alumni House, where we heard your eulogies along with your many friends and colleagues, I could hear that song playing once again. I know how much you liked Kate Wolf. And I would address you by that song title, except I don’t think the ‘great’ is quite right, do you? Catherine (Philippon) tells me that Christian (Philippon) always called her l’Amour de Ma Vie. She tells me that Frenchmen rarely call their wives by that phrase. So be it.
March, April, May always used to be a happy trinity, heralding of new life, a flourishing of futurity. This year the springtime months bore traces of your final illness: our pilgrimage from Castle to Castle, as it were, the castles being Summit Hospital with its Emergency Room, Intensive Care Unit, and at times of greater hope, Floors 4 and 5; the Oakland Rehabilitation Center; and a posh Assisted Living Facility – Bayside Park. We made our last stop towards the end of May at the final Castle: Piedmont Gardens. We were there, as you might recall, for something over a week.  And towards the end of May, what had begun as, in a way, our Pilgrim’s Progress, you moving from strength to strength, me following, carrying your small bundle of earthly possessions – that long march now appeared as though it had always been a retreat.  
Then it was Memorial weekend. Our daughter was testing an alternate universe – one consisting almost entirely of peers ­– in Seattle. Our son, who had stopped believing in parallel lives, remained in San Francisco. You had one visit from the Chinese woman (accompanied, of course, by her companion). I invited her. Your smile – when you saw her – told all. Back in March she had forwarded an email you wrote her to me, wherein you signed off, ‘Love, Anthony.’ I asked you about it. You said it was nothing. You added: “You have always (yes, always) been the love of my life.” L’Amour de Ma Vie.
It was untrue that your sign-off meant nothing. Should I therefore disbelieve everything you wrote? I chose to believe your words about your love for me. Just hours before that first day of my life without you, you told me about her. I told you it didn’t matter. We spoke for the last time of our love.
It has been nearly a year now, since you have been gone. How I spent that year, I will tell you sometime. Right this minute though, I want to return to another time when we were separated. That year was 1980 – thirty-five years ago: over the summer I was in New York, at times drifting along, at times unproductively fretting over a career that would anyway be deferred. You were close to ready for commitment, much more so than I was; you were passionate, deliberate, and waiting on me: waiting there in Berkeley, your heart full of love and open to the future. And so you began a conversation about our relationship, a seemingly one-sided talk that you sustained despite my relative silence.
That year I gladly received every one of  the letters you wrote me throughout the month of June. I read them avidly, if not always with delight, and kept them, first in New York, where I was staying in Debbie’s (Debbie Chapman) apartment on 99th and Broadway, and Oh, I am sorry to tell you, I just learned in a letter from Dana (Smith), that  Debbie has died, just this past month now, in 2015; there will be a Memorial on her birthday in July. So I have this letter from Dana, with whom I haven’t communicated for over thirty years, the same swath of time, more or less, during which these letters of yours stayed in the back of a drawer at a succession of California addresses  –– Oh, I always new they were there – and it was only in the fall of 2014 that I untied the little bundle and opened the faintly crackly white pieces of paper on which you wrote them, paper like tissue, and read your words of more than thirty years ago. Words written in small, hand-crafted writing, scratched out in the clean, elegant letters of an exceptionally intelligent man.

Love Letters and Then Some

            I remembered these letters as love letters, and love letters they most certainly are. But they are so much more than that. Informed by an immediacy that makes them beautifully descriptive, your letters are, of course, intelligent, but they are not particularly witty – their purpose is not to show off your powers, or really even to woo. Here is a sentimental journal set in a New World to which you are not yet habituated. These are explorations more than they are declarations of love. You do not proclaim. Rather your words are animated by emotions that you recognize directly and greet, as it were, on first sight. Only later are you informed by those emotions you recognize upon reflection. Genuine feelings are in the ascendant. They are there on the surface and deeper down. At their core beats a living heart. Sometimes you analyze what you are feeling. The brilliant mind does its work. But it is enough to recognize and to name feelings, to give them their definition: love, longing, depression, joy. 
As you write your way out of the blankness that is sometimes there at the beginning, and you emerge from the morning fog, always towards clarity, of course you are writing to a loved one at the other end of thought, to me. But you are also addressing your soul, speaking clearly without ruses, without false personae, without the too-clever devices of the academy. More than usually on your own now, you look upon the nakedness of things, and name them by their very names. A soul emboldened seeks its path. Your paragraphs are shaped by your keen observations – always colored to one degree or another by sentiment. What a gift you gave me at the time in writing these. What a gift you are giving me now.  
            As I write you I’m listening to “Abbey Road” on my iPod; right now the medley on side B is concluding with, “And, in the End, The Love you Take/ Is equal to the Love you Make.” Do you think that is true? I’m guessing you would say it’s not as simple as that. Yes, that is surely what you would say.
Right now I’m sitting on the floor in a hotel in Sonoma, one with a garden you would love: a garden in a courtyard, garden with a fountain, fountain in a corner of the garden, consisting of three basins generously passing on the water from the top basin to the one lowest down: three fountains really; or perhaps I should say: Three Fountains in a Coin, since Tanya (Bulloch) and James’s (James Balfour) room has the very best view-from-the-corner of the-garden, of the fountain. I am staying here with Tanya and James and Alex (Bulloch) and Devon (Rufo).
You always liked to quote those lines from the beginning of “Burnt Norton” – sometimes just the bird fussing in the corridor: “Quick, said the bird, find them, find them. Round the corner.” Find what? Echoes of memory. But more often you quoted those other lines that stand in your mind for nostalgia: “Footfalls echo in the memory/ down the passage which we did not take/ Towards the door we never opened/ Into the rose garden.” Only you liked best to quote from the poem without the footfalls of memory, so you just had ‘us’ moving ‘down the passage we didn’t take. . . Towards the door we never opened. . . Into the rose garden.’
And these lines about a garden. a garden we never went into, would arise spontaneously at the sight of a rose garden: as when we went walking along a graveled road and passed by a very lovely rose garden at the side of the road belonging to a stately home that had become the Thomas Hardy museum. And I opened a little white-painted wood gate and walked into the rose garden – as I told you jokingly, just so it wouldn’t become the garden we didn’t go into. You were not best amused. Since for you these were tonal lines of melancholy, lines that introduced the motif of missed opportunities that would not come back again, and therefore made the past both inaccessible and precious; and you advertised your longing that way.
Now we went into many gardens together, did we not? After opening the doors. There we dallied – yes, really dallied – I don’t think people dally much any more – ­ in pleasure gardens, in secret gardens of the heart;  we visited the sensual, some would say perverse gardens of Hieronymus Bosch and the mystical garden of William Blake, and we unlocked the chapel and entered it; and we visited the romantic Garden of the Romance of the Rose, we entered, we played, we abided therein.
Today I’m here in Sonoma for Judy’s (Judy Bacskai’s) 80th birthday party, and we’re all here at this hotel in Sonoma – your family – because we wanted to be together at this time, a year after you left us for good and for all. That party of the wisest and kindest of women among her guests, the wisest and wittiest of guests, many of them friends for fifty years and more, tracing their friendships back to Hungary, that party glowed with the kind of conversation and deep relaxation of body and soul that can only be there for the fulfilled. There where Marika (Somogyi) took funny pictures of us we also looked at photographs of Judy as a young girl with her family. That party took place not in a garden but among the vines you loved on the grounds of a winery, where Judy’s lovely daughters lovingly created this magical phantasmagoria for their beloved mother.
And as we all stood and chatted while waiting for the restroom, a local woman waiting in line asked the group: “Where are you all from?” The accents, you see. And of course all of us were Americans, the Hungarians having lived in the Bay Area for many years, for decades. Then when she heard me speak, the  woman asked me, “Are you with them?” I said that I was. “But you don’t have an accent,” the woman observed. “I’m working on that,” I told her.  And you would have been among the first to laugh at my joke, you who knew everything about being a stranger in a strange land, about nostalgia for the homeland, about the imagined return.
It was not to be your fate to have a party like that, with so many of your friends and dear ones gathered together in one place. They were, and are, scattered all over the globe, And nor was it your fate to watch your grandchildren (“What grandchildren?”) grow into remarkable people.
But you had other sources of fulfillment, other wonders and other joys: you had your own ancient fountains of stone spilling cool water into the freshly awakening present. Of course you knew pleasure. But you also had a remarkable facility at being awe-struck with very nature. With beauty and love. And enduring friendship.
And see how quickly the page fills up with names – names of  friends, names of our children even: yes, we had them, we had children, we married, the whole love story trended that way – but these letters of yours, the ones I am answering, were committed to paper before all that, they were just about you, about me, about your generous burgeoning love for me.
            And what of my love for you? Where is that expressed? For there is no other bundle of letters, no other packet to open and read. There is no set of marks on paper offering answers to all of the questions you raised. I called you, I sent you postcards, but I wrote no letters.
Today, we would email of course. And so the conversation would not be so one-sided, but nor would you have written these finely chiseled essays, trials of love: true glimpses of your soul.




                                                                                
                                                                           Monday,   2 June. 1980
Sweet Heart,

            I was going to start this last night, but when I found I couldn’t even pour my ovaltine into the beaker without spilling it decided I should go straight to bed.  I am blue that you’re away.  I hope the flight was OK and you didn’t need your aisle-seat; I thought of you later arriving at Kennedy and hoped that maybe Naomi (Cutner) would come and pick you up – and then to a new bed in Debbie’s (Debbie Chapman’s) apartment.  With new sounds, colours, smells, people outside.  I hope you slept OK.  At least by the time you get this you will be settled in and will be getting some sense of familiarity.  Do write and tell me how the journey went and how it all feels.
            Yesterday stayed grey well into the afternoon. The fog was low, still, driving back.  So it matched my mood, rather, of feeling blank. A good shower and then a strong cappuccino down at Walnut Square helped, and then round to Stroud-house to pick up Patrick and Sydney (Patrick and Sydney Wilkinson) to go and look at the egrets.   The fog was still covering the tops of the Berkeley Hills when we left at 11:00 and bounced down the rough surface of Ashby to the freeway, from which we could just make out the Golden Gate (when we were down there earlier it was completely invisible).  The tide was out, so as we went round the bay to the bridge there were lots of marshy smells.  Mt. Tam covered in fog as we crossed the bridge, though it was still exciting going up the rise of the bridge high over the grey water to swoop down the other side – rather like a roller-coaster.  Grey all the way to Stinson Beach, but the climb up to the coast-road through Mill Valley was still exciting – that coast gets so rugged and we found it strange to think we were only half an hour from Berkeley.  We got those huge sandwiches from the grocery store (which P and S loved) and then sat down at the Ranch at one of those tables, wrapped up in our parkas, getting deliciously covered in mayonnaise and mustard.  A blackbird squawked at us impatiently waiting for crumbs and goodies, and we looked up at herons and egrets flying in and out.  I thought of you a lot there – and you were just coming in to NY.  I was worried that Patrick would find the climb up to the look-out difficult, but in fact he was fine and we just went very slowly.  Going up was grey and foggy and rather mysterious through the woods, but when we got there the sun broke through and the walk down had lovely lighting and colours from the sun through the leaves and the shadows of overhanging branches. The birds were marvelous, of course.  Their long plumage seemed more in evidence – perhaps they were ruffled up against the cold.  There were still some heron – eggs with the parents standing on one leg looking down very boredly at their produce, also quite a number of fights as siblings squabbled for food.  As we sat there on the wooden benches Sydney turned and said, “You’ve got your ‘snake’ face on”! – apparently it’s a pert attentive expression, looking from side to side and about to say to her “Now you’re not to get worried, but there are three rattlesnakes/a bear/a mountain-lion just behind you.” And in fact I was just about to tell her about the gopher snake! So I did, but this time no gopher.  But there were a lot of vultures circling about, so plenty of reminders of nature in the raw.
 Then down and on through that lovely pastured area, so different a landscape yet again ( do let’s go and walk there when you get back) and up Tomales Bay to Marshall – windy and rugged – A drink at the Tavern and then round inland – we worked out a slightly shorter route, cutting out Petaluma, via Novato and on to 101.  I was very sleepy, and came too close once to bumping into someone merging in for my liking, but I didn’t say anything to P and S and we got back OK.  It turned out that it was Patrick’s birthday – 73 years old!! – so Ron and Connie (Stroud) had laid on a lovely celebration dinner.  Ron (Stroud) had gone and brought a copy of The Times, which they both miss terribly (Patrick turned straight to the obituaries!) and Connie had made a wonderful chocolate cake, terrifically goo-ey and with a pink candle on it.  Melissa (Stroud) dressed up to the nines – she earns about $30 a week baby-sitting and is buying lots of clothes, apparently, and especially shoes with three- and four-inch high heels on which she teeters up and down stairs feeling very sophisticated.  So last night: 3” heels and hair piled up, with a long slinky skirt (with an appropriate split, of course).  Patrick even got close to a cuddle with Ru, speculation that Ru runs away from men because their voices are lower, so hilarious imaginings of Patrick wearing a skirt and hat saying in a high queenly voice “Come along, Ru darling”!    
            I finished Barbara Pym.  Everybody alone by the end, and visions of Humphrey continuing for evermore to bring absurdly extravagant armfuls of peonies to a woman in love with someone else, while James drifts rather shallowly through a sequence of ill-defined relationships, somehow lacking the energy to commit.  Not sure yet what I think of it as an ending: they are all a bit self-centered by the end (or self-serving), and seen locked into it, but on the other hand Leonora has at last had a good cry with Meg and has more self-knowledge – Perhaps it’s only the men who haven’t changed much, and then who knows if Phoebe won’t come back from Majorca (or is that wishful thinking on my part?).          
            Oh my darling Linda how I am missing you and how I dread feeling this way, as I know I will, for a month.  My bed is so empty without you there to feel your body beside me as we go off to sleep and your arms to wake me up to and your breasts to caress as we wake into another day.  I love you so so much.  Be well and take very good care.  All my love, – in longing passion.
              Anthony




So thoroughly my native soil
abandoned me, that – Search the ground
and far and wide across my soul –
a single birthmark won’t be found!

Each home seems empty, each temple void,
All ties are burnt, all ashes buried.
But if a bush should appear on my path,
Especially a rowan-berry. . .
                                                                                    ­– Marina Tsvetaeva
                                     


                                                                    
                                                                           Wednesday, June 3, 2015

 Love of my Life,

Of course!  You would begin with Patrick and Sydney – your home away from home, your parents, really: substitute parents. Patrick interviewed you when you applied (“went up”?) to Cambridge. Indeed, for many, Patrick Wilkinson was the gentle and genteel Janus-face of King’s: as Martin Bernal saw him: “culturally conservative, politically liberal.” Martin, too, was interviewed by Patrick; Martin saw him as boyish in a public school way, and “slightly pompous.” (Geography of a Life, p. 133).
Oh my, I never thought of Patrick as pompous – not with that wonderful sense of humor. Nor was his personal story that of a pompous man. Yes, he was public school, but largely due to scholarships. You and Patrick had that in common. Tall, gregarious, clever, he stood out, but – perhaps since he was also good at sports, his peers seemed not to mind his brilliance. As top scholar at grammar school, he regularly led the boys in procession into chapel, apparently without stimulating much resentment. The fact that he was surrounded by boys from wealthy families did nothing to suppress his spirits.


Patrick Wilkinson


From spartan Bodeites to Charterhouse, Patrick excelled at academics but never really found his spiritual home. Like you, and like so many of your peers, he found it at King’s. What’s so special about King’s College. (I feel like I should write it as a declarative sentence, the way Dinesh D’souza writes the title of his book, What’s So Great About America.) King’s was special, you told  me, because of the brilliance of  so many Kingsmen (Patrick used to say that King’s College alone could lay claim to more Nobel Prizes in Science than all of France). You said King’s was special because it was the first college to admit Eastern Europeans, Jews, students from the Third World. King’s was special too because of its tolerance. Patrick’s mentor in Classics was J.T. Sheppard, the first openly gay Provost at Cambridge. As you liked to remind me, one wasn’t gay then, one was homosexual, and until 1967, homosexuality was illegal in England, that is to say it was considered a criminal activity, in a country where elite unisex education fostered many an adolescent love affair.

J.T. Sheppard



When I was re-housing your library I found a wonderful collection of works by J.T. Sheppard, and Googled him to find out who he was. I liked him immediately, both because of his attitude towards sports (in one of the pictures in Google’s archive he is playing – I’m guessing cricket –– with his pipe in his mouth). And I liked him for being the first out of the closet provost. But most of all I liked him for writing such words as these in Music at Belmont:

Shakespeare remembered how. . . when the lover learnt the truth, and fought and died, his “light ghost blissfully” rose to the Seventh sphere, “And there he saw with full avisement/ The erratic Stars, harkening Harmonie, / with sounes full of Heaven’s Melodie.” Thence, looking down, he saw this little world, with all its vanities. . . and in himself he laughed and went his way to the place Mercury appointed. (p. 135)

But still I didn’t see why you had all these things belonging to J.T. Sheppard in your possession. Nevertheless I made three ‘shrines’ in among your Classics books: one for you, one for Patrick, and one for J.T. Sheppard. And then several months later, while reading Patrick’s memoir: Facets of a Life, I discovered that John Tressider Sheppard had been his mentor, just as Patrick was yours, so the three shrines were perfect: a kind of spiritual line of succession.
Your letters though are not about Patrick, they are about Patrick and Sydney. About this couple who were like parents to you, and who represented the best of what Britain had to offer: charming, intelligent, self-effacing, witty – and who, as a couple, owed their formation to Patrick’s literary career, as their marriage was dear to them, as they were parents to two much-loved sons.
 Over the years you would tell me stories of them, always in the comic mode.
Stories about Patrick at Bletchley, and other tales out of history, like the one about Patrick and Sydney meeting in Africa during the war: two gallant superpeople (in height anyway) whose long legs tended inadvertently to collide beneath the table where they worked. Wry stories about their acquaintance: lovingly recounted if about seven-year housemate Morgan Forster, less so if about self-involved, Machiavellian academics who won’t be named herein. How alien all this was to America, land of no (intentional) irony. Patrick and Sydney were made of that finely blended substance – of adaptation and accommodation and the chameleonic survival strategy called mimicry, all viewed through the lens of quirky humor.
Sydney told me her impression of the Japanese following her visit to Japantown and the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. “Of course the Japanese are so very gifted at imitation,” she noted. And now here were the Wilkinsons, Angles in California, demonstrating how not to fall for the blandishments of nature, society, utopia.                  
For surviving nature one had one’s snake face. There one could be as vigilant as one could be pert. Amidst species of birds almost gone extinct, one used this face, this mimicry of fear, to ward off Evil. Evil of egret feathers used in ladies’ hats, was that it? Surely not. The reach of female vanity, of which both Patrick and Sydney heartily disapproved, was limited after all.  These birds, these gawky, elegant anachronisms, could harm little of Earth save her ecology.   
One could use one’s snake face to survive in society. They were, after all, a couple belonging to a community that had long thrived amidst prevailing market conditions. And what were those conditions today?  Many suitors competing for the hand of Mlle. Conaissance Pour la Conaissance (Learning for Learning’s Sake, shall we translate?) and, thanks to La Thatcher, the young lady’s dancing card was full. Before the ensuing brain drain­, Patrick had survived, nay thrived, due to his prolific writing, academic and other and by force of his inspirational teaching. He never earned the Ph.D. Didn’t need it – to be Fellow and Don, and non-religious Dean of King’s. Sydney survived by being, first of all, Sydney Eason, daughter of a Harley Street physician, then Patrick’s wife, more intelligent than he, as Patrick was fond of saying, but grateful nevertheless to experience, through her husband, all those things that made life wonderful.
As for utopias, the Wilkinsons had met with many such societies planted among the green curving hills of England. They remained untempted, and would be even less likely to succumb to any American version of heaven on earth, albeit Blithedale or California Dreaming. They would not be led astray. They were here to see and to learn. They were here for you.
And long before you courted me so passionately, you made a plan to get them to visit Berkeley, to see you in your new home, to bring with them a patch of England. (And was it really me you courted, or California? Or both?)
Were you homesick? Perhaps. But you were also completely open to new experience. You had a big poster of Dolly Parton the back of your office door.  You wore Western shirts and belts. You had a stack of Country Western records: Waylon, Willie and the boys. Ron went with you to hear them, and where you romanticized and identified, he found amusement at sentiments imbued with country kitsch: “You picked a fine time to leave me Lucile,/ Four hungry children and the crop’s in the field. .  . “ Ron might well smile at the poor man’s exaggerated misfortune, for he was in no danger of being abandoned by his charming wife, who hid her keen intellect behind seven variegated veils of illusion, and camouflaged her striking beauty with surroundings attuned to domestic comfort and tranquility. The Strouds had taken you in, a foreigner with talent and wit and so many stories to tell in your dulcet Cambridge tones, and that meant into their warm and happy home, where almost despite their generosity, that happiness of a well-matched couple, devoted to their children and to one another, remained non-shareable, not capable of replication, elusive.
And what of you? Not with the parental Wilkinsons, not imbued with ambience of Stroudlike domestic bliss, not romanticizing me. Just you. You are beginning to write. You were missing me, I know. But you were starting something new: a journal of your feelings and observations. You know, lately I’ve been finding out about new research on Reality (unreal Reality really not your sort of thing, is it? That speculative stuff, but this new stuff is more supported by science); anyways: here’s the gist: we have evolved for fitness, which is to say for reproductive success, which does not necessarily predispose us to see the word as it actually is. In fact there is what almost amounts to an inverse proportion between the ability to perceive Reality accurately, and genetic fitness. Even at our most accurate, we see but a narrow band of the perceptible universe.
And this brings me back to you, for what’s so notable about you in this first letter is how very lucid and awake you are, experiencing this so-called narrow band of world with all of your senses.
Ah, it’s an adventure, that roller-coaster ride down the bumpy surface of Ashby Avenue. It’s an adventure in the New World, and you are guiding your dear friends from the Old World through this (by them) uncharted terrain. Who but you, Anthony, would so describe it?  All begins in chaos, amorphous, misty, grey. Twice you mention this greyness. Twice you say that despite the fog, it is “still exciting.”
You detail then the surroundings in which you are totally engaged through your senses: initially your eyes met by fog, as you find the bridge first invisible, later barely detectable in outline – this while registering the rough surface of the road then curving out towards the Bay breathing in those marshy smells. From this vantage point you soar like a bird: “it was still exciting going up over the rise of the bridge high over the grey water to swoop down the other side” –– and again the grey swoop: you tell me it was “Grey all the way to Stinson Beach, but the climb up to the coast-road through Mill Valley was still exciting –“ Then taste: those delicious sandwiches. And sound: “A blackbird squawked at us.” And finally you get nature to mirror the swoops and dives of your driving. On the climb to the look-out to see the egrets and heron, going up is grey and foggy and rather mysterious through the woods, just as though you and Patrick and Sydney are perambulating somewhere in Middle Earth, but when you get there, you three questers, the sun breaks through, and the light and colours are magical where the sun forces its way through the leaves, and through the shadows made by the overhanging branches.
You miss me. Yes. But you are finding your way.





                                                                            
                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                                                                 Wednesday, 3 June, 1980


My darling Linda,
            Oh, how I miss you!  I haven’t been able to settle down to anything that requires any concentration – just fidgeting around with little bits and pieces, feeling desultory and subdued.  And I lose out both ways (as it were) because I still don’t really believe that you are not to be here for a whole month more.  You are in my mind just all the time, and I talk to you a lot, and that in addition to any sighings and fixations about you.
     Even my attempts to be practical yesterday weren’t very successful.  I decided that I really do want that fuchsia –– (nothing wrong with a little self-indulgence right now) –– and also the price is cheap – for the same amount you get a fiddly little thing at the Walnut Square Garden Shop) so down I go to San Pablo only to discover that they are closed Mondays. Double frustration, because I had already taken note of that when we were down there on Saturday.  At least I repotted my drooping Euphoria, but now 24 hours later it looks just as droopy and completely unimpressed by my intentions.
     So, round to Morton’s (Morton Paley) for a drink, and there he is out in the back yard on his knees in the earth digging a big hole with a trowel, stripped to old jeans and an undershirt.   I don’t think it’s just that I don’t associate Morton with that line of activity, he really doesn’t look natural somehow.  His two laurel trees had arrived, and he was busy putting them in, mixing quantities of fir mulch in, and watering.  He has changed his mind and he is going to do the lawn himself, so there were 14 large bags of compost piled up at one side, to be mixed in with the topsoil over the next week.  It is going to look good and and the laurels will be very handsome
     Morton was in a good mood as Gunnel (Tottie) had called. She has returned to Stockholm now that her term is over, and leaving Lund (which she now won’t go back to till September) has cheered her greatly. She is looking forward a lot to our Mendocino trip, says Morton. Also Morton’s brother has been seeing the lawyer, as against locking himself away, so M. is a bit or optimistic in that scene too. We quaffed our scotches and had a meal at the King Tsin– lots of delicious squid.
            Then to Kate Wolf with Ron.  She was wonderful. La Peña was completely sold out by 8:30, and the atmosphere was just terrific. I so much wished that you were there. She was just everything, somehow: lyrical, passionate, lively, wistful, sad. Throughout she conveyed a complete openness about her own vulnerability, without ever being sentimental –– gentleness and a streak of familiarity with the ambiance all the time, so that she just ‘touched’ us in everything she sang. She had two instrumentalists accompanying: a guitar/ dulcimer player called Nina, and a fiddler called Tom, who were both magnificent. We were all cheering and clapping for more, and they were obviously thoroughly enjoying themselves, feeling relaxed and playing with marvelous rapport. She did a lot from her new album, and almost a the end did the one which I know would make me cry if she did (so I didn’t know whether I wanted her to do it or not), The one we listened to last Friday: “I look into your eyes and see the love I always knew, / only this time, in a long time,/ it’s in me/ looking back at you.’ Stunning. She played for 2 and ½ hours, and we both left feeling just wonderful. She made me think of you/ us so much. She’s doing a couple more concerts in the Bay Area in the next few weeks, then going off on tour until mid-August, so I’m very tempted to go and hear her next week. I wafted home feeling a mixture of exhilarated and sad.
            I dreamt about you an awful lot last night and was upset when you weren’t there when I woke up. Grateful that I didn’t have too much preparation to do for my classes
and having lunch with Morton was good. Birds seem to be a lunch-theme, because a blue-jay came and hovered around me as we ate. Dear Patrick has read through everything I’ve been writing (the Callimachus commentary, my contribution to the Cambridge History, etc.) and he gave me a supervision this afternoon. So it’s all much improved.
            Oh dear, this is all about me. What I’m thinking about all the time is you. Wondering how you are, wanting you to know that I love you, hoping that you are missing me, but also hoping fiercely that you are having a really good time. Are you drawing and painting too? I am about to start Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, and that is going to put you much in my mind too, I know. And how can I tell you how much the physical you is in my mind constantly? Your thighs, your breasts, those lovely eyes How I want so much to make love to you.
            He prattles on. Discipline, discipline.  To the mailbox, and then to move your car.
            I kiss you all over.  With all my love, Sweetheart,
                                                                                    Anthony                                                                                                                      
   
                                                               
                                              Thursday, 4 June, 2015

Love of My Life,

That pink fuchsia – you got it eventually, and trained it against that white stucco wall of yours, where it blossomed and thrived, by solar power, outside your door in Berkeley. In the unsparingly bright light of California, against that dazzling white wall, it blossomed pinky-red and lush. Deep-hued flowers on a vine that curves around the white stone of a village doorway – putting you time out of mind, dazzling you:  color and light and white stone. Reminding you of the Greek Isles, another place where the play of light is a constant source of delight.
You often free-associated Greek places and statues and images to California light, (more typically in your early years as a California resident), so that your falling in love with California was graced by images and icons of classical antiquity. Indeed, California gained in stature, and was tremendously enriched, by that comparison. You did not free-associate in the opposite direction. Greece didn’t need to be illuminated by any such comparison; her rich treasures from antiquity, her art, poetry, history, and science, had their own internal glow, incandescent and perpetual.   
But the fuchsia in your letter is representative, too, as all good fuchsias should be. It is a kind of symbolization that is seemingly spun from the airy nothingness of your fancy to magic the ancient world, and all the dreams it held for you, across oceans, across time.  And then again it is the fuchsia of your love, suffering now in my absence, needing to grow something new. And then again it is the flower of your creativity, which you want to water and bless.
For you aren’t the only gardener here. Nor are you the only suitor, the only lover maintaining the position of the first foot of the twin compass, that moves only if the other foot moves. We are drawing our circle with me the one who is running obliquely. And Morton and Gunnel are drawing their circle too: your friend stationary in California while his lady love moves obliquely to Stockholm. She will return in due course, and according to that image end where she began. So will I return, your firmness making me draw my circle right and complete.
The women travel. The men tend their gardens. But how differently you tend them. I just left. You are dreaming about a beautiful something which you apparently didn’t want enough at first to pay the price. Then you wanted it and went to fetch it,
But when you arrived on Monday morning, the store was closed, as you had noted when last in the store: “Double frustration”.
            Your first glimpse of Morton is when you see him stripped down to jeans and a T-shirt, digging in the earth. So uncharacteristic! Morton is after all, a professor of English literature, a specialist on William Blake. But he is putting himself into this business of gardening heart and soul. While you have been dithering and pining about a fuchsia, Morton has been landscape gardening in a manner worthy of the gardener’s laborer on a country estate. He’s been at this longer than you have, both the pursuing love business and the gardening business. Indeed, if there’s to be any pining over a lost flower, Gunnel is much more flower-like than I. Last winter she appeared as the guest of honor at a party held by Morton. She had hesitated over baking her special bread, because, as she told me, “Everyone in Berkeley has some special talent.” I don’t recall whether she made the bread or not, but she made sure she was noticed. Scandinavian and a true blonde, she wore a playful grey frock with rose-colored accents and the fullest skirt I have seen on a non-performing adult female.
          Whence came this Princess? She came from Sweden, where both of her parents had been dentists, and her father had discovered fluoride. She herself was a linguist, interested in negatives, and in cultural differences in different language usages.  She taught me how interrupting is completely different in different cultures.  This American business if waiting your turn to speak is considered passing strange by Scandinavians, who regularly talk over one another as a way of chiming in and supporting the speaker.
            Gunnel was charming and professionally peripatetic, and Morton missed her mightily during her away-time. But he has no time for pining over a missing flower; he has a garden to build. You look around and see that he has got fourteen bags of mulch: he is planning to do the entire yard himself, and he has ordered some laurel trees, which you think are going to look very handsome.
            The two of you have a drink and go off to a Chinese restaurant for squid. How perfectly appropriate. Knowing your proclivities and Morton’s, I am sure there were jokes about the squid.
            And it’s time for a concert by Kate Wolf. For the fixed foot of a twin compass, you aren’t doing too badly. In fact you are in your element, and as with the drive to the Audubon Ranch, you are fully engaged. I love what you say about Kate: “She was just everything, somehow: lyrical, passionate lively wistful, sad. Throughout she conveyed a complete openness about her vulnerability, without ever being sentimental–gentleness and a streak of familiarity with the ambiance all the time” so that she touched you in everything she sang.
            And I think about who else those words might apply to. Yes, to you. For you are just everything in these letters, writing from a place of vulnerability, of longing, registering your moods, sketching your impressions of people and nature, avoiding sentimentality, which means displaying honesty, making your home in authenticity, and being free of illusion – as free as possible – as free as you can be.
            For all of the warm attentions I receive in these letters, I have to remind myself that I wasn’t your first choice. How could I be, when your first choice was to remain in England? To spend your adult life as Anthony Bulloch, Dean and Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge. And you would have done, had not Margaret Thatcher come along and demolished the remaining jobs. You could have come here in bitterness, and occupied a tight little enclave of Classicists and Ex-pats. But you always were a people person, you wanted to get out there , to do, to see everybody; so you taught classes of four?––Five? Eight hundred students, advising thousands besides. You made the best of it , you opened you heart and mind. Now you were falling in love. Not quite with America, but with California. With absence. And with me.