Sunday, April 29, 2007

Spring Bloom and Kenyon's Deterioration

Seaside Daisy

My mind is surprisingly blank this morning. It's another beautiful day; the weather of late has been sunny and cool, what we expect of the coast. The wildflowers have not yet peaked but cow parsnip is already blooming in its delicate parasols wide as a hand. Scotch broom lines the roadsides; the daffodils are over but wild irises still bloom, along with calla lilies. The wild rhododendron, rhododendron macrophyllum, is blooming beneath the redwoods as well. There are over 10,000 cultivars or subspecies of rhododendron, but this variety is our natural one. Thrift and ice plant color the headlands, with blue-eyed grass and seaside daisies. The yellow mats of first-steps-to-spring have faded. Golden poppies are everywhere. Blue blossom bushes have peaked but it seems the gorse never stops blooming. I could go on and on, just as the wildflowers do here, as our spring color has yet to crescendo.

Kathleen cries about our old dog, Kenyon, nearly every day. Last night she wept about him. "It's not long," she said. He shows symptoms of diabetes now, has cataracts and can barely hear. A neighbor joked with Kathleen: "Now Kenyon needs a hearing-ear dog." What's amazing is that when we take him to Big River Beach, he can still see the plastic bottle thrown on the water and swims like a champion to fetch it. It's in swimming he looks most like himself. When he comes home, however, he lies immobile for hours. He no longer makes it up the stairs at night to sleep near Kathleen. Sometimes when she comes home he doesn't even get up. He has good and bad days. I don't think he's suffering much; his hips hurt when he rises, and his left front leg has bothered him for over a year; he's licked it until the fur has turned from gold to red. His appetite is still good, although one expects that in diabetes. Given his overall condition, we don't think it's important to undertake the treatment of his presumed diabetes as long as he can eat and drink and eliminate and exercise.

The grief Kathleen feels at Kenyon's slow demise is like any grief at the deterioration of a loved one. What she sees and what she remembers of him are disparate, making the grief palpable while he is still with us. I feel a similar phenomenon, though by no means tragic, when I look at my grown children and think of them as little girls, mourning the children I lost. But they are not deteriorating before my eyes as Kenyon is.

I said to Kathleen: "Why must the ones we love linger? Why can't they all simply die in the prime of life?" Alas, nature is not that efficient. Yet our capacity to remember those we love as they were helps sustain us when they no longer resemble themselves except in outward form.

As for poetry, I have none. I feel there is none in me. I also feel there is a glass ceiling I will never break through; I won't break into Poetry or The Paris Review or The Kenyon Review or The We Look Down Our Nose at You, You Poor Slob! Review. I think I need to take up something else in earnest.

I performed music at a wine-tasting party the other night and was well received. I enjoy prose and would like to write more fiction. The best fiction can be as magical as poetry.

What fascinates me about poetry is its magic, and I feel no magic--indeed, in reading others see little magic as well. It seems the entire literary world is being swallowed up by "creative non-fiction." Since life is a fiction, this seems silly to me. It is a specious division at best. Fiction better represents our spiritual and emotional lives, I think, than fact. Now they are becoming so intermixed is seems not to matter.

I'll save my wandering through a herd of wild Roosevelt Elk on the Lost Coast for another post.




  1. "The best fiction can be as magical as poetry."

    I think the equation poetry = personal experience is basically pernicious. Along with that standard piece of advice "write what you know." Even though you have protested against that dogma in earlier posts, the quote above suggests you've internalized it to some extent; you instinctively refer to poetry and fiction as opposites.

    I think "write what you can imagine" is much better advice-- experience is great, but you can have only so much of it, whereas imagination is limitless. (But then, I was raised on SF/fantasy, which are genres that depend explicitly on imagining the impossible.)

    More than that, I think imagination is an essential part of the human makeup, a tool without which we won't have the flexibility to survive major change of any kind. Lack of imagination traps us in the short-term view (fill in your own favorite example of mass stupidity). The current trend in poetry seems to be anti-imagination and therefore counter-survival.

    I guess the point of all this is to say, if you want to write fiction, there's no reason you can't do it in poetry. (I realize selling it might be another question altogether.)

    I'm sorry about Kenyon. Our German Shepherd has started showing signs of age just in the past year; she's basically healthy, but slowing down and starting to get a little grey. Sweet, sweet dog. Several of our friends have recently lost dogs to age and other causes; it's just not fair.

  2. Tiel, you are wise. It was the Romantics who treasured "Fancy," who returned imagination to the forefront of poetry. I think now we are mainly in a continuation of the Confessionalist period, where instead of Wit (Neoclassical) or Fancy (Romantic), we suffer meditations on the personal. Is this because life has become too impersonal, and we crave the personal? Yet as soon as we encounter the authentically personal, too often we devalue it into celebrity and hunger for another original soul to market or discard. The personal often has a short shelf life; intimacy in the service of universality is much harder to achieve.

    I, too, grew up on much SF/Fantasy and love the genre. Invention may be based on experience but it is not limited by experience. When I read through the august journals I mainly see variations on confessional themes, competing for how intricate a journey to an epiphany can be constructed.

  3. "I won't break into Poetry or The Paris Review or The Kenyon Review or The We Look Down Our Nose at You, You Poor Slob! Review. "

    Now there's a real tragedy in the making, huh? Oh wait ...


  4. Anonymous9:07 AM PDT

    I like your comments about the frontal cortex vis a vis the limbic system, but could it be that you are mistaken? is it possible that your cortical system can "overpower", or more accurately, "convert" your depressed limbic system into a happy one?

  5. Cognitive-Behavioral therapy aims at the thing you suggest; but in severe depressions, in my experience as a patient and clinician, it does no good until the right medications are employed.

    In lesser depressions such "cortical" therapy may be enough to set the mood aright, but all research shows that a combination of medication and CB therapy is the most efficacious treatment short of ECT.

    Good question!


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