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Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I'm hearing Simon and Garfunkel again: "Still crazy, after all these years." Well, yes, I am, and especially so after the "holidays." I haven't been getting better at them, but I've got a new plan for 2009 that I'm implementing with a vengeance.

First and foremost, there is going to be no more waiting for things to "slow down," "clear up,"for time to expand so I can do the things I love but haven't been doing. In 2009 I am taking on time: time and delay and procrastination and waiting and "worry."

Here's a response from my friend Anne Steel who wrote to comment on the Dec. 6 post in which I quoted my friend Norma on the subject of "worry." Here's Anne:

Hello my friend!
I have a response to your blog of December 6 in
which your friend says "We worry, we worry, we worry, and then
we die." It is a poem by 14th C Persian poet Hafiz,
in a book of his poems sent me by my sister-in-law
Donna this holiday. Here it is!


The subject tonight is Love
And for tomorrow night as well,
As a matter of fact
I know of no better topic
For us to discuss
Until we all


****Part of my email conversation with Anne included this poem by Matthew Arnold, a poem I've always loved, one never more appropriate than it is tonight, 31 December, 2008 (though you might want to lop off the final two lines):


The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits;--on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch'd land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the {AE}gean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another!
For the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.


THERE'S A REASON I'M GIVING you these two poems together: they say the same thing. Arnold and Hafiz are reminding me of what I learned (I thought so thoroughly at my mother's deathbed) in 1991: there is no more time for anything but love. Look at the news, look at your friends and neighbors aging, suffering, dying, your world torn apart with violence; LOOK IN THE MIRROR. When you're listing priorities in the midst of all that's difficult, there is but one answer. Do as Alachua's Deacon Lawson said, practice this "religion of love" everywhere you go. Don't stop. Stuff every free minute or crevice with love. Don't stop. Don't stop. Don't stop.

[Learn more about Hafiz at]
[Learn more about Matthew Arnold at]

Saturday, December 6, 2008


(A late posting for) Sunday, 16 November

“What we do with our days is, of course, is what we do with our lives.”
---Annie Dillard


all day long the sky is gray
until the last moment, when the sun comes, striking
the undulating folds of the cypress
across the river, gilding the tree’s sculpted flanks.
The light moves, taking the fine white sand
at the edge of the Suwannee, dark waters lapping
at the white, a small blue heron, an infant lizard scattering
sand as he races for cover beneath yellow pansies
licking the ground: all this, against
the longing of an oboe, soft hoot of owl.

I wanted to relive the drive to Valdosta Mary Alice and I made with Larry Westmoreland just before he died last year; Larry got his B.A. at Valdosta State about 45 years ago. I visited his alma mater in October, but I wanted to go back because of Larry. I shouldn’t have been surprised that cold November morning a week after our initial trip when Mary Alice called to tell me Larry was gone. After a thousand 911 calls, ER visits, open-heart surgery, and the ever-present syringe he’d ask us to check while we waited for our orders in restaurants, I’d grown nearly as cavalier as he was about his health. Most of his friends probably took Larry for granted; he was always there for us, eager to share our good news or lighten our loads with laughter. One-on-one with Larry we got a quality of attention most of us never found anywhere else. Larry could, on occasion, worry as well and as intensely as any of us, but most days it seemed he opened his eyes on worlds of possibility and, before rising, calculated that day’s possible glories how many of them he could grasp. This was on my mind as I set out north, toward Georgia, last Sunday afternoon.

Readers sometimes say they don’t believe I actually write so much in the car; I do, though. I write everywhere; Friday I took notes during a funeral. There’s something about the rhythm of a moving car—and maybe the fact of driving without passengers—that lifts old memories up, silhouettes them against the windshield’s light.

Sunday, along 154th Ave., I traveled past the new neighbor's fence line marked with a long row of small Xmas-tree shaped cedars, then past the place where I always slow because I once hit a small dog I’d mistaken for a shadow; the dog lived. To the east, a favorite tree, the one I passed on my five daily trips between my house and the trailer park where I lived while the house was being built. I know this tree and its field—a Sassafras (albidum)with arms lifted to the sky, its lower branches lopped so the cows can’t chew them off; I know this tree in winter, spring, summer, and fall. Once, it was my daily walking destination; when I got there I actually ran my fingers over the tree’s bark before turning back. I may do that again, now that a certain scary pit bull has gone to live elsewhere. On the right, I pass Jerusalem Cemetery, its graves with photos of the deceased, some with plastic wreaths; Mr. Odeen Cook’s young daughter lies there, along with some of the Scippios, early settlers in Florida’s Hamilton County.

Swift Creek is on my left, then I go north on U.S. 41. It’s 2:00 p.m. at Genoa (pronounce it Jen-oh-uh); no autumn color yet, but the white stacks of phosphogypsum, a byproduct of the naturally radioactive uranium and radium dug out in the processing of phosphate for fertilizer—a billion tons stacked in Florida—rise on the east, as improbable as ziggurats in this landscape. (Many thanks to my generous librarian for her help with the chemistry.) A friend who daily drives this road closes her windows and air vents as she passes. On the leafless Chinaberry trees, drying seeds dangle like golden raisins in the afternoon light.

I drive from home to Jasper to Jennings, listening to the first half of the score from The English Patient whose central male character is remembering his life in painful and erotic fragments. Jasper’s old Main St. buildings would be beautiful if they were restored; it’s rumored this may actually happen. I pass cows placed like statues at even lengths along a fence line, a place selling grave monuments, a pawn shop-music store, a Dollar General, a young black man in bright yellow, Veterans Park where U.S. flags flutter from dozens of crosses, a house with three pumpkins on its front steps. “Jesus loves you/He is coming/Get ready” I read as I cross over the Alapaha that, to my horror, is only white sand imprinted with the tread of off-road vehicles. A half mile of rusty cypresses off to my left, then a dab of yellow, a red streak, and on both sides of the road a fluffy white fullness in bushes as tall as small trees. “Great Florida Birding Trail” a sign says and I come upon the Jennings Bluff Cemetery in the Upper Alapaha Conservation Area. On my right are postmodern irrigation lines, huge metal spiders, long legs splayed across fields.

I turn onto F O’Connor’s Misfit's road (in "A Good Man Is Hard To Find") by which I mean silence and absence of light on white sand shadowed by tall trees that curve from both sides and intertwine. There is no way to turn around and I remember that I am a white-haired woman in jeans. I have ¼ tank of gas and there is a limb in the road I get out and remove, remembering I am an American who suffers the lure of the road and, what’s more, prefers overgrown roads of dirt; just because I might be mistaken for a little old lady is no reason to stop driving these roads now. There are hickory and sweet gum the colors of cured tobacco and red wine; further on, the road’s low places are covered with baseball-sized rock.

At the bottom of 31 wooden steps a bit of emerald green algae floats in the cold water of the river and I discover a shimmer on the water like oil heating in a hot skillet. At Jennings Bluff I make a mental note to tell my son that if/when I ever go missing he should have the authorities look down the less-traveled dirt roads, expect hog panel gates and the twists and turns that so often mean I’m getting lost. The sun slants down as I start back to the dirt road that preceded the dirt one I am currently on, turn left, and come upon Jennings Bluff Cemetery and the JB Plantation which is closed with chain and padlock. I am interested in the dates on the crumbling grave markers, but I don’t get out. I’ve just passed a guy in a pickup truck.

On the "English Patient" CD's ninth track (as I am thinking of the nurse’s decision to help her patient out of his misery with a few extra pills), two wild turkeys step aside to let me pass. I emerge from my mini-adventure and turn right, again headed north. I pass many churches, the latest the Church of Christ at Oak Grove opposite a garden of winter greens, straight lines against pink earth; this is not where I came in but that’s the way it often turns out when I venture off road. Soon, I pass over the state line and cruise through Echols County, Ga., and into Lowndes County, passing naked limbs of trees knotted like silver fingers against the sky. I am nearly out of gas, but spot Inner Peninsula Road and turn in at a Swifty Mart with an oddly rooted tree, large and delta-shaped, one corner of its triangle red and the rest still green. I often see this with pear trees. I am 55 miles from home and after gas and a stop for cheesecake and coffee, I turn at Victory Church and sail on past white fields of cotton toward I-75, thinking of Norma Herndon’s response when I called to tell her of Larry’s death: “You worry, you worry, you worry, and then you die,” she said. I think on that, jot notes for my poem.