Tuesday, June 30, 2015



She is old now.
Surely the feelings I had
When she wasn’t have
Slipped away.  I didn’t plan   
To age, but I did
To keep her around
However long I could.

We made vows when
She became ill: If she
Would live to fifty-five
I promised to live ten
Years beyond.  When she
Did it became sixty
And then sixty-five.

This last time we
Forgot to vow.
Who would have thought
She had so much life to live?
Beauty of a certain sort may fade,
But when her eyes seek mine,
Even now, she is still the same.

The agony of Achilles

Achilles starts out as a reasonable man: Why is Apollos against us?  Does anyone know? Let’s find out if we can and appease him so we can defeat the Trojans.  Chalcas comes forward and says he knows.  Well, out with it man, what is it?  Chalcas tells him that Agamemnon has spurned his priest and refused to return his daughter.

Being a typical unreasonable fellow, Agamemnon drew his own conclusions about what was going on.  Chalcas never gave Agamemnon any good prophecies.  Furthermore, Achilles had it in for him. 

Things don’t go well for Achilles.  His prize, Briseis is taken from him by Agamemnon; so Achilles goes to his mother, Thetis, and begs her to beg Zeus to let the Trojans win until Agamemnon must come to Achilles and beg him to return and help defeat the Trojans.  Thetis waits for a good opportunity to importune Zeus.  While Achilles is in the process of getting his way, Chryses, the priest who got his daughter back goes to Apollos and asks him to rescind his curse.  The priest had convinced Apollos to let the Trojans win until he got his daughter back.  His daughter is back, so now he wants the Trojans to lose.

So the gods are receiving conflicting requests.  Achilles wants the Trojans to win.  Chryses wants them to lose.  Since Zeus is more powerful than Apollos we may know how that is going to turn out, but we can see that there are two requests before the gods.  They both have merit.  If one request wins out over the other those who believe in the gods will at least understand that the winner had a more powerful advocate on Olympus.

Monotheists don’t have that luxury.  During World Wars One and Two for example, civilians and soldiers on both sides prayed to the one God believing their cause was righteous. 

How does a theologian resolve this problem?  Deists believed that God had bigger things to worry about than petty requests like those made by Achilles and Chryses.  People were on their own.

In modern times Process Theology proposed that while God would like to help and do the right thing, he just wasn’t powerful enough.  He was sort of like Gaia, except more universal.  He was growing and mankind, homo sapiens, was helping him – as opposed to his helping us. 

More traditionally Christians on either side of whatever issue tend to believe that their cause is righteous and their enemies is not. 

Another monotheism, Islam, believes not only that their cause is righteous and all other causes are not but that Allah will give them victory in whatever war they fight.  So what happens if they lose as Saddam Hussein did for example: character flaws – not religious enough, in fact a thug and not religious at all.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Third Dream


I have again taken your hand
And at Newport Beach walked
You across the sand into
A rock grotto, tasted the
Freshness of your breath
And watched with you
The sea rustle the tide pools.

I’ve helped you into
The cockpit of our West
Wight Potter and sailed
You ever so slowly out
Past the breakwater lights,
Out into the wash
Against the seaward side,

And later when mast
Lights went winking
On sailed back watching
The darkness fall knowing
It would lift later on
In dreams if not
In reality.

The Second Dream


They sat around me
In semi-darkness.
“What,” I yelled,
“Why am I here?”
“You think you’re so
Lilly pure.  You aren’t”!
A voice rumbled in the back.

“I think no such thing,” I yelled!
“And now she’s dying,
The voice went on.  “I did
Everything I could,” I cried.   
“Oh, everything”?  “I don’t
Know everything, I said
More quietly.  “Some people

Think you think you do.                   
“I can’t help that,” I whimpered.
“You can’t help anything,”
The voice said and dropped
An octave.  “I’ve got to get back,”
I said.  “She needs me.”  “Oh yeah,”
The voice sneered?  “For what?”

The First Dream


I felt my ribs.
Nothing broken, but when
I tried to stand the world whirled.
I went back down to hands
And knees trying to think.
She was gone I knew.
They’d taken her while

Others held me away.  I
Fought but they were too many.
Someone smashed my mind
And I went down.  I looked
About, found my knapsack
And the gun.  Too small for
This but something, and my knife.

The lights swam as I drove.
Where did they take her? 
I wound down into the darkness
Shut off the engine and waited.
The moon came out.  The dogs
Whimpered.  I’d forgotten
Them.  We needed to get back.

Auden’s Anxiety

On page 278 of Auden, Davenport-Hines writes, “In the summer of 1952 Auden suggested marriage to an elegant and generous young American woman Thekla Pelletti, whom he had met the previous year on Ischia.  She declined the proposal, wisely given his remark that if they had a son, ‘we must call him Chester’.  (In any case his marriage to Erika Mann had never been dissolved.)  His proposal showed his wish for emotional permanence, and was a reaction from the despair which sometimes engulfed both him and Kallman during their Ischia holidays.  In proposing marriage to a woman Auden was resisting what he was drawn to.  In ‘The Age of Anxiety’ Malin had denounced ‘the noble despair of poets’ as ‘posturing’:

    We would rather be ruined than changed,
    We would rather die in our dread
    Than climb the cross of the moment
    And let our illusions die.”

Comment: During the 30s Auden, and I think some other homosexuals, married women who needed to escape fascism.  Auden married Erika Mann in 1935.  Was the proposal of marriage to Thekla Pelletti in 1952 a sincere one?  Davenport-Hines believes it was, but Auden’s wanting to name their son Chester after the man he considered himself married to for a while and in love with for years, Chester Kallman, must surely have been off-putting for Thekla.

In Auden’s The Age of Anxiety, Malin was a medical officer in the Canadian air Force personifying “Thought.”  The poem won the Pulitzer prize for poetry in 1948.  It inspired a symphony by Leonard Bernstein, The Age of Anxiety (Symphony No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra) and a 1950 ballet by Jerome Robbins based on the symphony.  Auden according to Davenport-Hines wished to overcome his own anxiety in 1952.

Auden was 45 in 1952.  When I was 45 I had been married to Susan for four years.  I was not thinking of my marriage as an escape from anxiety.  I had been anxious for awhile a few years earlier that she wouldn’t marry me but she eventually did.  Auden wrote somewhere that every one between the age of 35 and 45 has a crisis of some sort.  His, according to Davenport-Hines, had to do with a lack of emotional permanence.  At 80 I don’t know what that means, or perhaps I’ve had it all these years and take it for granted.  If so, will I miss it when Susan is gone? Did Auden miss not having it?

On the morning of September 30th 1973, Chester Kallman opened Auden’s hotel-room door to find him ‘turning icy blue’ on the hotel bed.

In my case, turning icy blue seems unlikely given the high temperatures here in San Jacinto, and the one to discover me won’t be opening a hotel door.  He will be a dog lying nearby.  I suspect he or she will mourn for several days.

The one who survived Auden, Chester Kallman died in Athens on 17 January 1975 at age 54 “of grief.”

Saturday, June 27, 2015

On Help


When she was an hour away,
More counting the time
To find parking, I would
Feel guilty not going or
Being there more often.
Now she is here, heavily
Breathing oxygen and getting

Percocet while I’m doing
All I’m able, realizing
She doesn’t know all
I’m doing.  And now
I’m borne down by
Those who come and stay
Or talk too long saying

They want to help.
There is no help
Which they would know
If they realized
The immensity of what
Is transpiring on a
Bed beyond their grasp.

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Great Good Place

Richard Davenport-Hines on page 234-5 of his Audin, quotes Griffin as saying, Audin “prides himself on his freedom from worldly possessions. . . . with him lack of a permanent habitation formed a humanistic release; he only wanted to search for men who actively believed in things he did.”

Further down Davenport-Hines writes, “Norse often saw Auden eating alone in a restaurant on Barrow Street.  ‘Barely looking up, he would grunt hello or merely nod and return to his book as if it demanded every precious moment of his attention.’

“Auden’s milieu on Cornelia Street is crucial to his creativity in the late 1940s.  He chose to make it his Great Good Place.  Caliban in ‘The Sea and the Mirror’ had presented a railway journey as a parable of life.  The dirty human traffic in waiting rooms, ticket queues and parcel offices provides the traveler with his chance: ‘it is in those promiscuous places of random association, in that air of anticipatory fidget, that he makes friends and enemies, that he promises, confesses, kisses and betrays’.  By contrast ‘the main depot’ of the railroad is only ‘the Grandly Average Place’.  The inspiration for Auden’s railway parable is a short story ‘The Great Good Place’ by Henry James which opens with an author named George Dane in his rooms, like Auden in Cornelia Street, engulfed by ‘an immense array of letters, notes, circulars, the pile of printer’s proofs’, by ‘periodicals of every sort’, but above all by books, ‘in wrappers as well as disenveloped and dropped again – books from publishers, books from authors, books from friends, books from enemies’.  Dane, who is near to breakdown changes places with an acolyte and is spirited away to a retreat which may be a sanatorium, or a sacred convent, or a hotel without noise, or a club without newspapers, or ‘a sort of kindergarten . . . of some great mild, invisible mother who stretches away into space and whose lap is the whole valley’.  Here the persecuted author finds ‘the vision and the faculty divine’. 

Comment: On page 236 Auden is quoted as saying ‘From now on the poet will be lucky if he can have the general living room to himself for a few hours or a corner of the kitchen table on which to keep his papers.”

As it happens I am using a kitchen table, a small circular table in the corner of the kitchen.  I’ve moved more and more books and things down from my study so I can read or write while being able to see or hear any change in Susan who is about ten feet away. 

A couple of hours ago I got a call from a very talkative lady who went on and on much too long about how she and another lady wanted to come over and be with Susan right then and perhaps give me some time off.  She was worried about me she said.  She didn’t mean to be pushy she said, but she and this other lady could stay downstairs with Susan while I went upstairs to rest.  I told her that I had moved everything I needed from my study downstairs, and that I was resting well enough unless guests got too noisy talking, singing, or playing music for Susan.  She kept on, really wanting to come over tonight.  I put her off.  I had a reason.  I had given Susan morphine for pain and she wasn’t able to respond to questions or even understand what was being said.  “Come tomorrow,” I said, after the morphine wears off.  But call first.”

I was never in circumstances like George Dane, at least not in regard to my writing, but I have begun to feel some pressure from the various people who come here to see Susan.

When I invited all Susan’s friends and family to come here to visit Susan I didn’t fully appreciate what that would mean.  They come according to their own convenience; which isn’t unreasonable; however I’m used to taking a nap whenever I feel like it, but I can’t do that any longer, that is not unless I shut my phone off.  And if they are here and stay too long and I need a nap I am out of luck.  Most people visit and stay a short time, but not everyone wants to do that.  Not everyone wants to leave.

My Great Good Place is my study as it has been since I retired in 1999, but it could be the rest of the house as well.  I’ve gotten used to this little corner of the kitchen.  Maybe if I have the whole house I’ll get used to other places.  

Would I ever eat alone at a place equivalent to Auden’s restaurant on Barrow Street?  I tend to think not, although I might spend an hour or two drinking coffee if a place is great enough and good. 

The parts of my house that are not my study were selected and arranged by Susan.   She set up a fairly nice kitchen with every thing a cook might need and I’ve learned to cook a little. 

Of fate and souls


Henley could be
The captain of his fate
But I can’t be
Anything of hers.
Tend her, I know,
But nothing that will
Lead to Restoration,

No great affirmation
Waiting here
Near her bed
Watching the rise
And fall is all
I do for now.
She said she never

Groaned, but I hear
Her melody.  Not
The sounds I have
Made but gentler,
Like a young bird
Wanting something
It barely understands.

One in the morning


She was hard to understand.
Ben had pulled my blanket
Away.  I got up and saw
Her eyes were open.
I thought she wanted
Water so I got her some
But she kept on

Asking then I heard    
There was water
On her chest.  I looked
And saw the blood,
Her old wounds bleeding.
I bandaged them but
Her blood seeped through.

I bandaged the bandages
And put an old shirt
Over them all.  Puzzled, she
Looked at the blood on her
Hands.  “Try not to scratch
Yourself again.”  She nodded
And I covered her up once more.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Past


In the past she would have
Made some comment as I came
In as I did just now from the yard
Having raked but a few leaves and
Edged but a tiny bit.  I was
Ready with my defense,
It was too hot it

Was all I could do.
Her eyes were closed.
Her lips moved slowly.
Softly humming
Moaning sounds,
Sweetly I would
Have said had I heard

Them years ago if she dreamt
Of some of the joy of those days.
Her eyes would have sparkled
Open and she would have
Smiled as she saw my wonderment.
Today she would call it
Worry, but she lies sleeping.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Clean Well Lighted Place and suicide

From Hemingway's short store, "A Clean Well lighted place":
"He's drunk now," he said.
"He's drunk every night."
"What did he want to kill himself for?"
"How should I know."
"How did he do it?"
"He hung himself with a rope."
"Who cut him down?"
"His niece."
"Why did they do it?"
"Fear for his soul."
"How much money has he got?" "He's got plenty."
"He must be eighty years old."
"Anyway I should say he was eighty."
"I wish he would go home. I never get to bed before three o'clock.  What kind of hour is that to go to bed?"
"He stays up because he likes it."
"He's lonely. I'm not lonely. I have a wife waiting in bed for me."
"He had a wife once too."
"A wife would be no good to him now."
"You can't tell. He might be better with a wife."
"His niece looks after him. You said she cut him down."
"I know." "I wouldn't want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing."
"Not always. This old man is clean. He drinks without spilling.  Even now, drunk. Look at him."
"I don't want to look at him. I wish he would go home. He has no regard for those who must work."
. . .
"Another," said the old man.
"No. Finished." The waiter wiped the edge of the table with a towel and shook his head.
The old man stood up, slowly counted the saucers, took a leather coin purse from his pocket and paid for the drinks, leaving half a peseta tip. The waiter watched him go down the street, a very old man walking unsteadily but with dignity."

I'm now sitting at a table about the size of a table I set at near the El Mirador hospital in Palm Springs.  It was in a Starbucks, sort of.  That is, the Starbucks was actually inside the lobby of the hospital -- a very nice setup for those waiting for someone or for a ride.  I sat there for perhaps an hour reading a book, waiting for a doctor to be done conducting some procedure on Susan.  I had no thoughts of suicide -- still don't.  If (I still have difficulty thinking "when") I lose Susan, I may check out the Starbucks near me.  I won't use the drive-thru but will go inside and see if it will be a clean well-lighted place, good enough to sit and drink coffee for an hour our two.

Years ago when I was going to college and paying my way, largely, by working for the Teamsters, someone told me the story of a fellow who retired, had someone take him to an inlet of the Pacific Ocean every day.  He had a lunch pail and a fishing pole.  He cast his line out and then opened his pail and took out a bottle.  By the end of the day he was drunk, and someone came to get him.  Day after day it was the same until he died.   I never heard how old the man was.   Sounds like he could have been an existentialist.

Hemingway's old man was deaf.  I'd rather be deaf than lose clarity of mind as Susan has.  I discussed with Susan the idea of reneging slightly on her plug-pulling plans.  She could get kidney dialysis.  I'd be happy to take her for that.  She'd gain clarity of mind, but she stuck with her original plan to give it all up.  She has gone on for years getting weaker and sicker.  She's tired and wants there to be an end.  Not just that, she has an extremely high degree of faith and experiences no doubts about "being with the Lord after death."  So it isn't like the old man hanging himself in a Hemingway notion of existential despair.  Susan has been responsible -- more than responsible.  She has done everything the doctors asked and prescribed so that she could have a new liver and live a long time, but when they said they couldn't operate and that beyond that their tests had given her kidney failure, she decided she had done enough.  A person desperate to live as long as possible might opt for kidney dialysis, but she isn't desperate.  She is a physical wreck.  Whether she could even endure the being lifted into a wheel chair, taken to a dialysis place, waiting in a wheel chair, enduring the process, put back in a wheel chair and driven home is doubtful.   She's content to wait here in the hospital bed the hospice people provided, have me feed her as much as she can manage, and wait. 

As for me, I don't drink and so won't experience any alcohol-induced despair.  I do read biographies of poets, which is depressing enough.    Auden, in the one I'm reading now, made it to age 67.  He died in Vienna.  A Syrian doctor reported Auden saying "'My mind still seems to function, thank God, as it should, but my body gets tired very easily.  His diagnosis -- a weak heart, whatever that means.'  Shortly afterwards, at the close of summer, he wrote three lines that may constitute his last poem:

    He still loves life
    But O O O O how he wishes
    The Good Lord would take him."

". . . Some friends and acquaintances in New York and Oxford, who knew how miserable Auden had been, speculated whether he had killed himself either deliberately or incidentally with alcohol and pills. . . A limited autopsy was performed and indicated that he had died of heart failure.  There is no evidence of a fatal overdose, intentional or otherwise; and perhaps the speculation arose because Auden in his last years often volunteered the remark that he had never contemplated suicide, with an insistence which made some of his friends doubtful."

I skipped ahead in Richard Davenport-Hines' biography of Auden to see how Auden died.  I didn't read enough to have the entire event in context, but from what I read Auden was taking "pills" and also, like the old man in Hemingway's short story, drinking.  Lots of people slip away under those circumstances. 

I wonder, if Auden's mind was not functioning well, whether he would have rationalized his way to suicide?  Perhaps not if he was as religious at the end as his three-line poem suggests.  Susan is that religious.  I think I'm okay as well, but maybe I don't need to worry about that for awhile -- plenty of time, most likely, to find a clean well-lighted place of my own.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

On not raging against the dying of the light


Dylan Thomas wrote the poem “Do not go gentle into that good night,” but it is worth noting that he wasn’t writing about himself.  He planned to go into that good night as quickly as possible and managed it at age 39.  He was writing about his father who died at age 75 or 76. 

I was interested in Thomas when I as back in my 20s and 30s.  Raging at the dying of the light seemed the sensible thing to do.  We back then had a lot of rage, but did poor old David John Thomas (1876–1952) when he was in his mid-70s rage as his son Dylan suggested?  I read some biographies of Dylan years ago but can’t remember how his father died.  I recall quite well how Dylan died.  He literally drank himself to death.  Does one do that in a fit of rage or is self-indulgence more to blame?

Dylan in his poem urging his father to resist death, presumably because he loved his father, didn’t want to lose him, and wanted him to hang onto life as long as possible.  He didn’t say in his poem “do it for me, dad,” but that is implied by what we know.  But how unreasonable and inconsistent is it to on the one hand urge his father to resist death for the sake of his son, while he personally drank himself to death?

Perhaps he didn’t intend to drink himself to death.  As someone who did some heavy drinking in his youth, gave it up, and is now a fairly-healthy 80, I’m not the best judge of someone who couldn’t give it up, but I judge him nonetheless, especially now that Susan has decided not to rage against the dying of the light.

Years ago Susan lost a lot of blood and was close to death.  I literally carried her to the ER at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach.  I recall her telling me on a gurney that she was looking forward to being with the Lord.  I was mad at her.  I didn’t want her to do that.  I wanted her to stay with me.   Later after a transfusion I told her my feelings and she never said that again until recently.  Back then she had not yet turned 40, Dylan Thomas’ age, but now she has turned 70, very near the age of Dylan Thomas’ father when he died.  Back then I wanted her to rage at any dying of the light, but now when she is 70 and I am ten years older, and I have changed my mind.  I was admittedly selfish back then, but now I want what is best for her, and while I’ve played a potential struggle in my mind where I exercise some anti-dying rage, it always involves a lot more pain for her and surely at some point a person as old as Susan or Dylan Thomas’s father has suffered enough. 

I recall my own father, someone who did indeed rage against the dying of the light and managed to live until age 78.  He like Dylan was a heavy drinker and drank almost his entire life.  He was much healthier to start with and so didn’t die early.  After I got back from Korea, having learned to drink, I spent a lot of time with him.  He was in good shape and wanted me to pretend I was his brother and not his son, for the sake of some lady or ladies he was interested in.  He was about 5' 11" and 185 pounds and in very good shape, but when he was close to the end and had raged as much as possible, he was below 100 pounds and told his wife of that time that he couldn’t struggle on any longer. 

Susan when I saw her on Monday retained all her dignity.  She didn’t rage and wasn’t bowed down.  She knew as I had to admit that if she were to rage, something very much not in her nature, she would be bowed down which in her case would resemble severe dementia.  Thanks to modern science she was given, temporarily, a clear enough mind to think about the future.  There was no hope of a liver or kidney transplant.  There was no hope of eliminating the duodenal blockage.  A whole team of specialists on the Loma Linda transplant team had determined those things.  Susan’s choice wasn’t between having these transplants and not having them, it was between going to some half-way house, returning to less and less clarity of mind, severer and severer dementia and the indignity of being cared for in the most weakened of conditions or letting them disconnect the artificial aids at Loma Linda, letting her retain her clarity of mind and some dignity, letting her say good bye to family and friends and know that she was doing that. 

I know no one with a stronger faith than Susan.  She isn’t worried about what will happen to her after death.  She knows she will be with the Lord.   The chaplain who came to pray with her on Monday was surprised.  Most Christians he said had faith but still had doubts, but he soon realized she didn’t have any.  She was more a blessing to him than he was to her, but she said she like him and hoped he would come back and pray with her again.  She didn’t need him to bolster her faith.  She liked him and would welcome him back.  She was not raging at the dying of the light, she was blessing those around her even as the light died.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The dream


She is in the process
Of leaving, having packed
The little she needs,
Lying now beneath the weeds
Of wires and cables
Counting off the miles
And moments passing.

She’s rather be
With the Lord she said
But not than me,
Than the incessant
Importunity and probing
She endures, listening
To the beep, beep, beep

Of a pulled-loose
Connection, dreaming
A dilaudid day
When she could
Run and play,
Climb as high as anyone,
Love me once again.



I’m exiled from her
Or her from me these
Weeks deprived as she is
Of clear mind and I
Of the sight of her smile.
Trash is even now pulled
Out in barrels and dogs bark

At those sharp alarms.
Later someone may howl
Something more profound
Of loss and separation.
Is there a restoration,
Something like dawn
Breaking above the darkness,

Or will the longing
Wail across the foothills
Meld with coyotes questions,
Calls and answers
From a moonless night
When we won’t see
Each other once again?