Tag Archives: memory

Tropical Depression

We are still drenched in the feeder bands (like that weather report lingo? yep, we’re fluent in New Orleans) from this almost-hurricane Alex. They promise it won’t disturb the oil spill. Thank goodness. I’d hate to have anything mess that up—it’s been going so well. Speaking of lingo and fluency, I remember years ago, way before Katrina, someone told me, “There’s a depression out in the Gulf.” I puzzled over this for some time, wondering why she was telling me about a person suffering from chronic emotional distress out in the water. Should we get that person some help? A therapist? I was confused. Not any more. Now I know the short-hand terms better than I ever wanted to know. Although, it’s no accident that “tropical depressions” are called that. No mere weather pattern, these low-pressure systems infect our emotional core with an inexplicable heaviness. Anxiety, sure—that’s a conditioned response, rising from our collective memory of five years ago. But the hard-to-pinpoint sadness, the low-grade, enveloping grief that makes us move and think with a strange slowness—these seep into us from the air all around. An invisible density bores down on our brains from the Gulf and the past at once.

Makes me want to move to Canada for lots of reasons, not just the good gun control laws. Sheesh, don’t get me started.

Emily refused comment on the recent Supreme Court decision that overturned the ban on hand-guns. She’s only mildly interested in the weather. This was all she had to say:

#359, c. 1862

I gained it so —
By Climbing slow —
By Catching at the Twigs that grow
Between the Bliss — and me —
It hung so high
As well the Sky
Attempt by strategy —

I said I gained it —
This — was all —
Look, how I clutch it —
Lest it fall —
And I a Pauper go —
Unfitted by an instant’s Grace
For the Contented — Beggar’s face
I wore — an hour ago —

It’s true. Nothing like a moment’s happiness to make a person all that more aware of her misery. “Happiness makes up in height what it lacks in length,” said another dour New Englander.

Emily goes further. She says that her moment of happiness made it impossible for her to be content with mere existence. She might have been satisfied with trundling along, not expecting too much, but then she couldn’t resist reaching for that treasure up high, that bliss. Now, she’s had it once, she is ruined, spoiled for regular life, which is never characterized by sustained Bliss.

So she asks us to ask ourselves: Is it worth it? Clearly she believes it so. But she can’t help falling into the shadow surrounding Bliss. It’s the memory of Bliss in the shadow that spoils her. When she removes herself from experience and dwells in the memory of experience, then she finds the source of her melancholy, or rather her sense of herself as a Pauper. She sees Bliss as something that belonged to her, an object she clutches with desperation. When it slips away, she feels depleted, as though someone drained her bank account. Interesting that she doesn’t know how to be happy as a dog. She had plenty of good teachers for that. Sorry to roll out the clichés, but that’s what they mean when they say, “Ignorance is Bliss.” That and a failure of memory too.

My grandmother was the happiest she has ever been during the last few years of her life when her memory left. It was replaced with doughnuts covered in powdered sugar and round-the-clock cable TV. There was a program that showed a continuous loop of random amateur wedding videos. My grandmother watched these and imagined she was actually in attendance at the wedding, that these strangers on TV were her nieces and nephews getting married, and she was witnessing a real and true blessed event. It made her happy because she loved weddings, especially the cake at the end.

So my grandmother spent her final days as a perpetual wedding guest, smiling with powdered sugar dusting her chin and blouse. That was her bliss. Hard to argue with that. More of this tomorrow.

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Hermetic Memory

I wrote this a week ago when it was actually the first day of spring. So it would have made more sense to post it then, but my week ran away with me. Here I am seven days later, still freezing cold, damn unnatural to have the heat running this time of year, and not sure where the time went. In any case . . .

Today is the first day of spring, the Vernal Equinox, equal hours of daylight and darkness. We are perfectly balanced on the borderline. Pause. Hold the breath. Now exhale. What next? Gradually, more light.

What a weird way to begin our incremental slide toward summer. This morning is freezing cold. Not an auspicious beginning. My Bougainvillea has not decided if it’s dead or not. I am still waiting to see if those roots underground survived the hard freeze this past winter. Too soon to tell.

Here is Emily’s contribution:

#895, c. 1864

A Cloud withdrew from the Sky
Superior Glory be
But that Cloud and its Auxiliaries
Are forever lost to me

Had I but further scanned
Had I secured the Glow
In an Hermetic Memory
It had availed me now.

Never to pass the Angel
With a glance and a Bow
Till I am firm in Heaven
Is my intention now.

She announces her intention at the end. She will not take angels for granted until she lives among them in Heaven itself. I find this amusing because I don’t think Emily bought this idea of Heaven as a garden of nursery school delight, presided over by a God who resembles Santa Claus. I think she peered over the edge into nothingness, and she was not content to lie to herself that any story made up by humans could explain what lay on the other side.

So when Em goes on about Heaven and Angels, she is setting up a construct for us to see the pointlessness of capture. Holding an experience (or Glory) is like trying to hold onto a cloud. These slip through her hands. She says that if she had held the cloud in memory it might comfort her now. Isn’t she sealing up the cloud in an hermetic memory by writing the poem. No, the poem falls short of the cloud, always.

The moment of capture, the poem, also opens wide the sense of disappointment. The poem catches itself in a perpetual unfulfilled straining to hold the cloud that recedes forever into the sky. Try pursuing that glimmering mirage on the sunny road ahead. It looks like a reflecting pool. The moment you pursue it, the moment you put words to it, is the moment it evaporates.

Emily’s pose in the poem is to pretend to be disappointed. The last stanza that offers Angels in Heaven is the conventional fear-based story, made by humans to explain a mystery that defies human apprehension and language. From behind this mask, she asks: Can we watch the cloud go by? Can we deeply imbibe that glory and let it go without attempting to capture it? Can any one of us co-exist peacefully with this mystery, sensed but not known?

She’d like to leave it alone, but she can’t. The poet, despite herself and her better judgement, cannot stop peering into things that are none of her business. This is not the hell of being human but the hell of being Emily.

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