Looking Back Again

I’m constantly looking back over my shoulder, both literally and figuratively. Did I remember to turn off the oven? Should I have said what I said, done what I did? Is my dad still standing there in the freezing cold at the end of the sidewalk waving to me as I drive away? Nowhere is this tendency to look back more pronounced than when I write. I revisit and revise things I’ve written over and over again, sometimes even decades after I first wrote them.

For this reason, trying to keep up a blog has been a sometimes painful form of self-discipline. Because the time I have to write is so limited, it’s only a self-imposed posting schedule that keeps me going. But forcing myself to write and actually post to a deadline has been a bit like what I would imagine it would feel like to have to run naked around my neighborhood. (If you happen to have read “Naked” you’ll know how unthinkably horrific that would be for me, not to mention for my neighbors as well)! I could so easily be paralyzed (turn into a pillar of salt?) by succumbing to my urge to endlessly look back, fix, tweak, and edit. This is perhaps why the literary theme of looking back as an act fraught with peril resonates with me.

A couple weeks ago I explored this theme in “Looking back,” a poem written from the point of view of Lot’s wife, who turns to watch Sodom burning. This week’s “Looking back” poem is about Orpheus and Eurydice. On their wedding day, Eurydice is killed by the bite of a venomous serpent and is taken into the Underworld. So powerful is Orpheus’ music that he is able to sing his way into the Underworld and is even able to persuade Hades to allow Eurydice to return to Earth. In most versions of the myth, in his frantic joy at finally reaching Earth with his beloved, Orpheus turns too soon before Eurydice has been able to cross the threshold of the Underworld. For this one glance, Eurydice is lost to him forever. Gluck’s operatic version of the story is even more cruel. Eurydice cannot understand why Orpheus won’t turn to look at her. She reproaches him for no longer loving her and refuses to continue on with him. Unable to bear her grief, Orpheus turns to reassure her of his love and she is lost to him again.

Here’s how Julian Barnes makes sense of Orpheus’ action in his book Levels of Life:

Of course Orfeo would turn to look at the pleading Euridice – how could he not? Because, while “no one in his senses” would do so, he is quite out of his senses with love and grief and hope. You lose the world for a glance? Of course you do. That is what the world is for: to lose under the right circumstances.
Julian Barnes, Levels of Life

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Orphée ramenant Eurydice des enfers, 1861

Looking back

When Orpheus played his golden lyre
The wild beasts lumbered and swayed
Rocks and trees drew nearer to listen
And the sirens’ ruinous song was outplayed

How could you not love a boy like that? Eurydice thought
As she danced with the Naiads on her wedding day
With flowers in her hair and a heart full of love
She trod barefoot where a venomous serpent lay

Orpheus rushed after her into the Underworld
Singing a lament so bitter and gorgeous
That Hades himself broke down and wept
And three-headed Cerberus howled in chorus

I’d like to think Persephone played a part
In pleading for the poor bride’s release
She who had also been torn from the Earth now asked
That Eurydice be allowed to go in peace

Leave now, Hades commanded, but don’t turn around
Until you’ve both crossed the threshold and see sunlight
Amazed at their good fortune they set off at once,
Orpheus in front, Eurydice behind and safely out of sight

Then what joy, what relief to finally step out into the sun
And to know this terrible nightmare is over!
Orpheus turns joyfully with hand outstretched –
Too soon! For this glance, Eurydice is lost forever.

I’m quite sure I’ll be looking back and changing this poem, but there it is for now.

Pillsbury Doughgirl

IMG_0684I have never once in my entire life on this planet thought of myself as a skinny person, though when I look back at old pictures of myself, I can see that there were times when I clearly was. Now, after having had three gargantuan babies who busted out what few abdominal muscles I may have ever had, and after years of working behind a desk all day, I am most definitely not skinny. More than once I’ve been congratulated on my nonexistent pregnancy. (People! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  If you don’t see a head crowning, NO congratulations are in order)! I probably should do something about the pot belly situation, but the truth of the matter is that I’d much rather spend my time and energy on other things. Besides, I really like to eat. Even so, I feel guilty about my lack of will and am self-conscious about my overly ample girth.

Last week my daughter cuddled up next to me and stroked my doughy midsection saying, “Your belly feels so nice and soft.”

I tensed up and pulled away saying, “Ummm, thanks, but please don’t touch my pot belly!”

Undeterred, she kept kneading away and said, “But it feels so nice and soft, just like a mommy’s belly should! It wouldn’t feel good if it was hard and bony.”

And just like that, this lovely and wise little girl, the light of my life, taught me how to honor the body that created her and two other wondrous miracles.

Related post: Wheat Belly Sisters

Hope is blooming

Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom

from “A Blessing” by James Wright

Right now I’m going to just ignore those weather forecasts which call for snow on Wednesday and then for some more at the beginning of next week. Today I walked around in shorts and my pasty white legs saw the light of day for the first time in months. Today in a moment of foolhardy optimism, I moved all my citrus trees out of the garage and into the yard to soak up the sun. And today I joyfully observed and recorded the first signs of spring:

Hair Show!

When we were little, my sister used to entertain us by having “hair shows.” She has hair that can be sculpted into all sorts of amazing, gravity defying shapes. We would howl with laughter every time she emerged from the bathroom with a new hairstyle, each one more outlandish than the previous one. Too bad she’d kill me if I posted a photo of one of those…

Nowadays, she works her magic on the kids. Here’s a hair session with my son:

This weekend it was my daughter’s turn:

Locker Intervention

When my son showed up for his English class last Friday without his textbook yet again, his saintly teacher staged a locker intervention. In the email she sent to us afterward, she explained that not only had they found the book he was missing, she had also discovered a veritable cornucopia of food in his locker. There was enough to feed an entire continent…if it weren’t for the fact that it was growing limbs and developing individuated personalities. There was an entire wardrobe of clothing crammed in there too. On Sunday when the usual mad scramble for “church pants” was going on, I serenely pulled a pair out of the dryer that I had just washed from The Great Locker Clean Out 2014. Unfortunately, I failed to take into account the fact that they’d been stashed in my son’s locker for a few months:

So…tea length capris – that’s a good look, right?


One wintry day many years ago when I was a poor graduate student subsisting on a daily diet of one can of Campbell’s tomato and rice soup for lunch and dinner, I was wandering down Broadway when I stopped at a vendor’s cart piled high with CDs. Was it the intoxicating aroma of roasting chestnuts and honey roasted nuts from the neighboring carts that was my undoing? The unmistakable smell of snow in the air? Whatever the reason, I found myself handing over money from my meager student stipend to buy the Boyz II Men Christmas album.

“Ya wanna plain brown paper bag fuh dat?” the vendor asked.

“Hunh?” I looked at him blankly.

“Ya don’t wanna be seen walking around in public widdat, do yas?”

Damn. Openly scorned and mocked by a street vendor to whom I had just forked over my last dollar bills.

I guess my taste in music has always been embarrassingly haphazard at worst, “eclectic” at best. Nevertheless, my playlist is a reflection of who I am and where I’ve been. Similarly, my bookshelves full of Russian literature, poetry, and children’s picture books are also an accurate record of my life and interests.

I recently borrowed my son’s Kindle to read a book I didn’t want to add to my already overflowing bookshelves. In reading through his “Archived items,” I unearthed a treasure trove of information about him. There were things you might expect to see on any eleven year old boy’s reading and app list, like soccer books and games, “fart-themed” apps, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Legends of King ArthurThe Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and Treasure Island. There were some surprises as well. For example, I hadn’t realized how deep my son’s interest in  Civil War history was until I read through the extensive list of memoirs, histories, and documents on his Kindle including that classic: A Refutation of the charges Made against the Confederate States of America of Having authorized the Use of Exploive and Poisoned Musket and Rifle Balls during the Late Civil War of 1861-65. I’ve always known that my son’s the kind of kid who likes to figure out how things work. Even so, his list of “How-to” guides still managed to surprise and entertain me: Clutter-Free Home Living, How to Get Cash in 24 Hours, Hotel Room Workout, Make Perfect Coffee, How to Read Maya Hieroglyphs, Evening Yoga for Women. And then there were the cookbooks. To understand my puzzlement over these, it would probably help to know that we often refer to our son as “White Boy.” This has nothing to do with the color of his skin, and everything to do with his preference for white food…the blander, the better. Imagine my surprise to discover such exotic cookbooks in his archives such as The Kerala Kitchen: Recipes and Recollections from the Syrian Christians of South India and Taste of Romania: Its Cookery and Glimpses of Its History, Folklore, Art, Literature, and Poetry.

I’ve learned a lot about my son’s wide-ranging interests by going through his Kindle archives. My budding renaissance man is interested in cookery, wildlife, the ancient ballads, poetry, and songs of the English peasantry…And also? The boy’s a sucker for free downloads.