Thursday, June 23, 2011

the future of the past.

.looking back.

  The late Lucy Grealy wrote that there are moments in life which grab us, and demand that we live each day after in reference to them. Just as our outward experiences affect our attitudes, our inward thoughts and meanderings are able to imprint a subtle influence on behavior and actions. Maybe it's not so much a moment as it is a person, a place, a smell, a taste- that both sweetly and urgently demands our attention. Our memory becomes soaked in the bitterness or the joy, and we are undeniably marked by the experience.

  Long ago I was imbued with a love of writing, and it stained me in a way I never could or cared to wash away. Not to say that it hasn't been a tumultuous relationship, because the ups and downs have been numerous and frequent. But it's a practice, and you eternally work at the things you love.
Along the way I have had the great fortune of being surrounded by incredibly talented artists, dancers, writers and musicians. Some have been fleeting characters, now distant ghosts, and others have made lasting impressions- all fortifying my love for the crafted word.

  April is National Poetry Month, and all month long I toyed with the idea of a writing-related blog post. I realize the month is long-gone, and Spring has lazily shed her skin to make way for Summer. But the nagging feeling that this is something worth doing remains.

In my younger years I was lucky enough to meet and begin a correspondence with an author named Fielding Dawson. Fielding was a close friend of some other poets in Indianapolis that had nurtured and encouraged my writing. A long time resident of New York, he journeyed to Indiana as a guest speaker during a visiting authors series sponsored by Butler University. I had the opportunity to pass along some of my poetry from that period of time, and to my pleasant surprise, he actually liked it. It is worth mentioning that I was a teenager at the time; preferring the company of adults but unable to rationalize that preference with the fact that I still had so much to learn.  Nonetheless, the experience has left a subtle imprint on the way I look at life and the world around me.
Fielding Dawson (1930-2002)

The enclosed poem is one of which I hope Fielding would have approved, had he had the chance to read it.  Here was a man who wrote with such stunning imagery and bone-deep emotion.  A man who had incredible insights on society and culture.  A man who wrote this:

"America has the brightness and glitter of someone who is big and rich and powerful who is trying to skip what can't be skipped, itself, using everything it has to avoid itself, it doesn't glitter inside, it's dirtier and more neurotic than it dares believe, it's soaked with guilt and fear for its unsatisfied viciously related hungers which are never satisfied, causing a friction sending up great showers of sparks for the whole world to see, and the world cries, 'How wonderful!'"  
Krazy Kat & 76 More: Stories 1950-1976

 This piece is from 2006.  A fleeting memory that tells a fragmented story of an important person from my past.

For the demimondaine from Detroit

dem-i-mon-daine n.  a woman of a demimonde
dem-i-monde n. 1 a hist. a class of women in 19th-c. France considered to be of doubtful social standing and morality.  b. a similar class of women in any society.  2 any group considered to be on the fringes of respectable society.  [F,=half-world]
The Oxford American Dictionary and Language Guide

And she was beautiful like a funeral dirge.
Melancholy mournful like when two notes
make that perfect connection
and just vibrate on through.

She had a voice that made me hungry
for creamy foods.
Puddings, custards, meringues.
It was in the way she said words;
Pushing her tongue to the roof of her mouth
and letting them glide out
like newborn babies.

On that plywood stage in the back of the record store
she stood ten feet tall,
dressed in black,
with long hair flowing as she paced
to her own tempo.
She her own metronome.
  And we were just slack-jawed kids
in awe at how well and how good she looked playing their game.
She was the demimondaine.

  To be the only woman
in a group of male poets
who had concluded that men wrote poetry for pussy,
she was doing pretty well for herself.
  Became the girlfriend of a writer with a bald head and glasses,
known for his graphic accounts of anal sex with fat women.

  She was the same age as my mother
though she looked 10 years younger,
and sometimes wore a leather jacket.

  She published a chapbook
with a photograph of herself on the cover,
smoking a cigarette in a silky black dress.
And at a party in her honor,
she read those poems like they were fresh, wet wounds
she was bandaging.
Like they were a feverish brow she was caressing,
a nervous hand she was holding.
And she was magnificently serene in the face of such pain.
She called herself the demimondaine.

  The queen of the half-world,
ruling on the fringes.
  A little girl playing dress-up,
and a woman encouraging her daring to dream big.
  I eked out the lines
and she was there every time
to tell me to keep going.
To keep writing because it was inside of me
like it was inside of her.
  And when that fire went out,
it meant we were dead.

  The last time I saw her
was at a poetry slam
-someone's idiot idea of making poets
compete against each other when really,
they can only compete against life.
  I was older and not much wiser,
but wearing it well.
  And she was older,
and very much the same.
Though it had ended badly with the poet,
and he was there to get revenge
in the best way he knew how.

  She was uncomfortable and alone,
smiling sadly at her table by the window.
Writing her number on a cocktail napkin,
though we both knew I wouldn't call.

  There was nothing to talk about anyway.
Too much time elapsed between old and new.
The only thing we'd ever had in common
was the poetry.
But sometimes that's enough.
Sometimes that's the stuff,
that bonds you even after the moment is gone. 

  She was the demimondaine from Detroit.
Queen of the half-world,
the soul-child of passion done wrong.

While this post has strayed a bit from my normal focus, I have realized that this isn't a space for creative limitation, but rather a blank slate without borders.  While I enjoy sharing recipes and notions about food, writing also feeds and nourishes me.  And I must admit, my soul has been starving for its return.    

You can read more about Fielding Dawson here:

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