Manoeuvres in the Dark

General Downer ordered Captain Pain to wake me up early,

each nail driven flush, head screwed on backwards.

Lieutenant Doubt brought in wedges, Sergeant Fear drilled the holes

in a blancmange of self-esteem curdled by HMV (Her Mother’s Voice).

If Admiral Alcohol could float all our boats,

if Rear-Vice-Sub-Private would only obey,

if Colonel Attitude would finally kick in

to set fire to boot camps, clear the fog

of bullying tactics, stomp on officers’ messes.

 

Meander, sweet nothings, refuse to cower, shouted at,

moved like chess pieces on an invisible board.

Raise your meek bosoms in the rousing language

of nineteenth century phrasing, triumphant with Verdi,

gallant with Radetzky, drunk with Turkish lore.

Military Manoeuvres by Jan Hoynck van Papendrecht, from Artnet.
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Quotations to Keep You Going

Last night I dreamt that I had met up with an old friend of mine, whom I haven’t seen in ten years or so. I see her occasional updates on Facebook, but I don’t know much about her anymore or how her life has turned out. It’s important to make that clear, that what follows has little bearing to reality.

In my dream, she was turning cartwheels in a nature reserve somewhere in Valais. [How do I know it was there? Well, some lovely St. Bernard puppies were playing with her in the field.] When I remarked how happy and content she seemed, she turned to me quite seriously and said: ‘Don’t judge by appearances. You have no idea. I have to take strong painkillers for my back pain, follow my husband around to all sorts of different countries and I’ll be a franchisee, for heaven’s sake!’

From Shadow Moutain Saint Bernards site.
From Shadow Moutain Saint Bernards site.

So then I became all competitive and shouted at her: ‘Call that trouble? You should try being me, unemployed, divorced, got a rejection every single day last week – no rest even at the weekend – plus I’m not sure I can keep a roof over my head?’ [N.B. This is an exaggeration as well.]

The woman who was feeding the St. Bernards and cleaning out their litter boxes [yes, I know that’s for cats, not dogs, but in dreams nothing quite makes sense, does it?] turned and said: ‘You should try being my sister: her husband was killed for protesting against the dictator, her child has cystic fibrosis and can’t get treatment in their country, and she has been waiting for two years to get vetted but is now rejected by the US and has spent all her money on the application process.’

I don’t remember if the puppies then licked all of our faces to make us feel better, but I awoke soon after and started wondering what my friend was up to and why we had lost touch (our email addresses kept changing is one reason). Meanwhile, the barrage of world news is relentless, while my mother’s idea of support and encouragement is to phone me regularly to tell me how overweight I am and how discriminated women over 50 are when looking for a job (I am not yet 50), while my father gets me in a panic about the political situation in Romania. Private and public depression and stagnation intermingle, or, as Rebecca Solnit puts it, so much more eloquently than me:

One of the essential aspects of depression is the sense that you will always be mired in this misery, that nothing can or will change. There’s a public equivalent to private depression, a sense that the nation or the society rather than the individual is stuck. Things don’t always change for the better, but they change, and we can play a role in that change if we act. Which is where hope comes in, and memory, the collective memory we call history.

p1030031

So how do you keep going under the circumstances? With some great books and beautiful quotes, of course. (Motivational wallpapers not included, but here are some pictures which cheer me up.)

When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstone of our judgement. (JFK)

20160822_080019-1So much world all at once –

How it rustles and bustles.

The joy of writing:

The power of preserving

Revenge of a mortal hand. (Wisława Szymborska)

Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art. (Andy Warhol)

Poetry changes the poet and, if you do your job rightly, it changes the reader. What’s being composed is me. (Gwyneth Lewis)

From Mental Floss
From Mental Floss

Don’t waste yourself in rejection, nor bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

We must accept finite disappointment but must never lose infinite hope. (Martin Luther King)

Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it. My optimism, then, does not rest on the absence of evil, but on a glad belief in the preponderance of good and a willing effort always to cooperate with the good, that it may prevail. (Helen Keller)

p1030076A failure is not always a mistake. It may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying. (B.F. Skinner)

It is important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and destruction. The hope I am interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. It is also not a sunny everything-is-getting-better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting-worse one. You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings. (Rebecca Solnit)

As far as I can see from here almost everyone I know is trying to do the impossible every day. All mothers, all writers, all artists of every kind, every human being who has work to do and still wants to stay human and to be responsive to another human being’s needs, joys and sorrows. There is never enough time and that’s the rub… creation depends as much on laziness as on hard work. (May Sarton)

The first snowdrops of the year...
The first snowdrops of the year…

 

Passenger

succulentI’m a stranger in my life

mid-screen

ambling inopportune

breaking the cheer of online victories

more treasured in absence

more valued for my silences

in-between words I bite back.

 

Composted worlds I’ve suppressed

the landscapes drip fluid

colours realign

the print-out never quite

what I put in.

 

I’m a stranger to my life.

The path peters out in moss-hung dead ends

Reed in a cluster by a pool

caked to mud.

Weeds have overgrown my roots

also my tongue.

The Ballad of Night Anxious

Image from http://homepages.tcp.co.uk/~nicholson/alice.html

What does it matter where my body happens to be?  My mind goes on working all the same.

I’ve done it again. Unwitting, unwelcome,

I’ve woken up Knight Anxious,

all creeping worries and lingering thoughts,

all lists and fears, tapeworms,

my warts magnified fivefold by the conjured dangers of the night.

 

He heralds tumbling tonefalls, a rain-soaked day ahead.

Regardless of the weather, he never cooks the pudding,

yet proud of his invention, he harrumphs on horses high,

failure denigrated, unhinged from little pleasures,

unwashed with median joys.

 

He watches, waits, then pounces, always the live menace,

but always unexpected.

After all this time

I still can’t find the trigger

nor welcome him sagely

nor sluice him off like wet reproaches.

I hesitate just one second:

each time the haircracks multiply,

he seeps through, sucking

all air from the cave of my lungs:

infallible gravity.

 

We soldier on, we soldier on, mounted or on foot,

no end in sight, no redeeming dawn,

we balance, we teeter… and some of us fall.

Finish the Dream

Ominous landscape

Of late he has been having dreams that wake him bathed in

anxious dew.  Yet comfort, strangely, comes from these odd

glimpses to what might have been, ways ignored or seen

too late, people mistrusted, friends laid adrift.  So much more

real, this dreamscape, than the recurring rumble of his toothached life.

 

One cable at a time he tries to disentangle from the jumble of

wires that tug and wind; into rival connections he plugs in

too much, fearing yet craving overload.  He stalls, he tosses, seeks

to find the sweet cool spot on his pillow to finish his dream,

to perish the thought.