Categories
Poetry

Poem For Children and Adults Who Refuse to Grow Up

Our Mother’s Nature

Viviano Hibbert

Our Mother wakes us, 

We are deep asleep.

We stretch and yawn

Reluctant, we don’t get on our feet.

Mother says she’s angry.

We say we don’t understand.

Mother shows us again:

A disaster is at hand.

Our Mother destroys our room;

We have no place to sleep.

Mother says maybe this time

You’ll get on your feet.

Categories
Literature Poetry

Feline Dementia

Only Margaret Atwood can conceive this:

Cats suffer from dementia too. Did you know that?
Ours did. Not the black one, smart enough
to be neurotic and evade the vet.
The other one, the furrier’s muff, the piece of fluff.
She’d writhe around on the sidewalk
for chance pedestrians, whisker
their trousers, though not when she started losing
what might have been her mind. She’d prowl the night
kitchen, taking a bite
from a tomato here, a ripe peach there,
a crumpet, a softening pear.
Is this what I’m supposed to eat?
Guess not. But what? But where?
Then up the stairs she’d come, moth-footed,
owl-eyed, wailing
like a tiny, fuzzy steam train: Ar-woo! Ar-woo!
So witless and erased. O, who?
Clawing at the bedroom door
shut tight against her. Let me in,
enclose me, tell me who I was.
No good. No purring. No contentment. Out
into the darkened cave of the dining room,
then in, then out, forlorn.
And when I go that way, grow fur, start howling,
scratch at your airwaves:”
no matter who I claim
I am or how I love you,
turn the key. Bar the window.

Margaret Atwood “Ghost Cat” from her 2020 poetry collection, her first, Dearly

Categories
Literature

Moving First Line

The hallmark of a good novel or a poem or any piece of literature is the first line.

Here is one:

“Dear Ma, I am writing to reach you–even if each word I put down is one word further than where you are”

—From Ocean Vuong’s “On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous” (2015)

Categories
Literature

Where One Lives to Die

Rachel Heng’s story “Before the Valley” (The New Yorker, May 31, 2021) should be renamed “Before the Death Valley.”

Set in contemporary Singapore, a country as unabashed in its helpless embrace of the death-end of capitalism as is the U.S., the story is about the elderly living out their lives in an assisted living center named “Sunrise Valley.”

Events are narrated primarily from the point of view of one particular resident whose daughter works 8 days, 80+ hours a week to pay for her mother’s care. The mother has a serious fall and the daughter, being at work for most of the day, including weekends, fears another accident. The choice to put the mother in an assisted living center is a necessity.

As the narrator says, the word “before” is a code. “Before […] was the shorthand residents used for their lives prior to Sunrise Valley. Before wasn’t talked about often; it felt unseemly somehow, self-indulgent, to dwell on one’s past life.”

But were the lives the inmates lived “before” any better or life-affirming than the lives of their present?

I understand the answer to be a “no”. The narrator reminisces about the life “before”, in the regime of her parents, in the regime of her husband, and then in the regime of her two daughters. Her memory of the past is unsentimental, not colored by projections of the ideal in her mind. Her parents struggled to put food on the table, to pay rent; to give the daughter a “better” life, they outsource her education and upbringing to the church. In essence, they give her up. The narrator remembers the “unseemly” moments of abjection and exploitation at the hands of the nuns. Her husband was a lout who leaves her and her two young daughters in penury. She has to take on extra labor for paying rent to self-support and support her daughters. The daughters grow older and the familial ties are ambiguously outlined. There is no idealizing of the “family.” One daughter leaves for New York to slave away at an advertising agency. The daughter who stays behind in Singapore to look after her mother is drained of energy. She is 48, childless, without a family of her own. The mother realizes the daughter is in a worse position that she is.

The past of other inmates seep out as well. They are no more jovial and bright than that of the narrator’s. The story begins with a birthday celebration of a resident who turns 90 at Sunrise Valley. We get to know that his “before” was death. He was a state executioner whose claim to fame was that he could endear himself to those on death row and persuade them to become organ donors. But does this man remember his past? Evidently he doesn’t because of an onset of dementia, or perhaps he fakes dementia to keep his past a secret. He is celebrated as a social man who somehow has the ability to lift up the spirits of the residents. He is well liked. His company is sought after. But no sooner than his past is revealed, the residents strangely begin to avoid him, isolate him.

Except for the narrator. By the story’s ending the narrator has had an epiphany: Life has been death for almost everybody, cringing before a system that sucks the life out of people even when they are younger. She realizes that life in old age inside Sunrise Valley is neither better or worse than the lives outside in the system. Sunrise Valley fits in perfectly with the other cogs of the system in which people find themselves (shall I name it “capitalism”?) It’s just that citizens are deluded into believing otherwise, into fearing death as though it were the opposite of the lives they have led.

The narrator has a breakthrough moment. All she needs to do is adapt to the notion of death as a homely one, not an uncanny or jarring dark place severed from life.

The narrator chooses to befriend the hangman whom everybody else has by now abandoned. Sitting next to him at the center’s big bland dining table, soaking in the smell and taste of nasi lemak, the narrator asks, “Tell me […] what’s it like to die.”

Categories
Personal

On Writing Letters

Or email, in the present day.

Frantz Kafka once complained that writing letters “is actually an intercourse with ghosts and by no means just the ghost of the addressee but also with one’s own ghost, which secretly evolves inside the letter one is writing.” In a letter, a version of yourself has to be pinned to the paper, made into something that can fit inside an envelope. Because of the inevitable delays of the mail (not applicable in the case of electronic communication), the self that finally reaches its recipient will bear only a spectral relation to the self that you have meanwhile become. And when their letter arrives, in response to yours, the lags compound. Ghosts commingle in the mail, and all the while actual correspondents remain painfully out of touch.

Categories
Personal

The Other Side

We often see one side, and suffer.

Often times, what registers as a painful deprivation in our psyches/consciousnesses, could be mirrored back into a space into which one can grow.

You suffer, you say, because the people closest to you have grown distant: This shows that your world is beginning to grow vast. And if what’s near you is far, then how enormous your whole extent is, reaching all the way up to the stars.

Categories
Human life Personal

A Burning Question

How to live when your life still seems mostly potential, when it is defined by a longing for what you can hardly yet imagine, let alone name or touch.

Categories
Literature Poetry

You Must Change Your Life

The “Archaic Torso of Apollo” by Rainer Maria Rilke

“We cannot know his legendary head

with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso

is still suffused with brilliance from inside,

like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise

the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could

a smile run through the placid hips and thighs

to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced

beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders

and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

Would not, from all the borders of itself,

burst like a star: for here there is no place

that does not see you. You must change your life.

Categories
Music

Eminem Always

Categories
Covid Science

Everything Comes From Somewhere Else

These are the words with which science writer and journalist, David Quammen began his talk “Pandemic from the Perspective of the Virus”. He was invited to shed light on the source of our current plague: Covid-19 by New York University’s Salon Series of speakers on March 2, 2021.

Quammen’s 2012 book, “Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic” claims that most human pandemics begin as animal pandemics. Animal microbes cause more than 60% of the viral infections that affect humans.

The transmission of microbes from animal to human is the “spillover”.

Sometime in 2019 a “spillover” of a particularly lethal brand of SARS or the novel coronavirus took place in China’s Hubei province from infected pangolins or bats to vendors and buyers in the wet markets that sell animal meat.

The rest is history.

Quammen said some pretty interesting things. Here is a list of what he said:

There is no point in vilifying viruses. They have strengths and weaknesses like we do. Viruses are not innately strong; they gain muscles only inside cellular creatures.

Viruses are ubiquitous in cellular homes. On any given batting of an eyelid, viruses outnumber humans and animals taken together by zillions.

Switching perspectives: We live in a world of viruses, not the other way round.

Spillover is the first moment of host-jumping when In 1908viruses pass from non-human hosts to human hosts.

In 1908 a spillover of the AIDS virus took place in the jungles of Cameroon, when a hunter encountered a Chimpanzee. Ecologically speaking, the human predator had encroached into Chimp territory; the Chimp struck back in its defense, but the hunter cut the chimp and had chimp blood on his body. The spillover of the H1V1 was highly consequential accounting for a global death of 38 million people. Currently, about 37 million carry the virus. The virus passed slowly and inconspicuously from the early 20th century hunter Cameroon to the bustling colonial city of Congo and then onto Haiti as Haitian workers helped the Congolese laborers build infrastructure in postcolonial Congo.

The chimpanzee was a reservoir host. The virus lived inconspicuously in it. Outbreak happens when the viral transmission takes on a animal to human and finally a human to human trajectory.

We are now getting a pattern: Human activities that are disruptive in the natural world–like the hunter spilling chimpanzee blood–are more or less triggering off pandemics.

Viruses in and of themselves are relatively pacific. They live the way nature intended them to. They are not begging to be transmitted from non-human hosts to human hosts.

Viruses have no intentions, purposes, wants; we invest them with demonic characteristics which viruses don’t possess. They are simply “riders”, riding in their hosts.

Scientists have cried hoarse making this fundamental fact of nature clear. But who listens? If we listened then we would become solid critical thinkers, thinking through a slew of indubitable facts. But we interpret, we superimpose our hideous anthropomorphic notions of truth and we ruin the world while we also ruin ourselves.