It’s been a while since I’ve posted, so to kick myself into gear, I’m posting something written a while ago on a midsummer day.
Reseach and Findings: genealogy and dustbunnies
At the end of March in 2013 while on a golf trip in South Carolina, Ted had two minor heart attacks which led to two small strokes. He lost most of his ability to talk.
I plugged in the vacuum this morning. It’s noteworthy as I don’t do this very often. Behind the old trunk in the bedroom I found a ‘holy picture’ of St. Joseph. On the back is a prayer: CONSECRATION TO THE MOST PURE HEART OF ST. JOSEPH. I collect these pictures, a habit from childhood. We exchanged them like baseball cards in that time of innocence.
The Catholic belief is that Joseph never had sex with Mary. The Angel Gabriel had taken care of that, yet there have been books written about the brothers of Jesus, actual brothers, not spiritual ones. There are arguments for both sides. It took me so long to start figuring things out.
Books were miracles that let me escape but as an eight year old I had to walk for a very long time to get the library, for once I realized what was inside one, I was hooked. It’s why our house today might fall down if we remove my books, literally and metaphorically. Before I discovered the public library, there were no books in our house. Every once in a while my father would bring home a newspaper. I never saw my mother read anything before I went to school when she had to help us memorize Catechism questions. On the way to the library, there was a field edged with pink roses on bushes.
I move the old repainted trunk by the bed, steady the pile of books there, The History of Devon England, home of a branch of ancestors. It’s Devon’s fault that I’m in here with this noisy machine this morning. I glanced up from the History last night and saw the dust under the armchair. If it had been an armchair with a skirt, I wouldn’t have noticed the dust. So now I’ve chained myself to this old Filter Queen, sold to my husband Ted a thousand years ago by a brother in a salesmn phase.
Under the old schoolroom bookshelf with doors I find two backscratchers. Now my back needs to be scratched, so I do that. Behind the bookshelf that now shelves various kinds of paper for bookmaking, is a door about 18 inches high and two feet wide. If we had a safe, we could hide it in there I suppose. The smaller grandkids like to push away the shelf and peek into the scary space. It’s probably full of dust too, but Filter Queen can’t, or won’t, reach.
Push aside the boxes of files about genealogy, the ones that have stood in as table for a lamp, beside my reading chair. The files once proved my father’s line goes back to Charlemagne, and now there’s evidence that the same line goes back to Flavius Afranius Hannibalanius, a Roman Senator and military officer appointed Consul of Gaul in 292 C.E. You may offer your allegiance when we meet.
Nothing in these papers shows a predilection or even a talent for housecleaning, my justification for feeling like a saint today. We are ‘noble’ and nobles don’t sweep floors. I’ll have a card made up. I don’t do windows. There goes the lamp…
The research has been wildly exciting, and shows that most of these ancestors were literate. Since writing and research is what I do, I dig, and find that the Afranius branch goes back, though the links are fractured beyond 292 C.E., to members of the family, who, while most were soldiers famous enough to have fought with Pompey and Caesar, and to have coins struck in their image, admits to a family member who tutored (and was executed by) Nero, and the playwright Lucius Afranius who wrote during the 1st century B.C.E. Forty-two of his plays are still available to be staged.
In this epoch, I am one of the first of two large families to have finished high school, and it would be many years before I earned a degree; I, like wordsmith Lucius Afranius and the unfortunate tutor , Sextus Afranius Burrus, chose a degree calculated to keep me poor, unlike all those other Queen’s University students, the sensible ones in medicine, law and engineering who now ride around in restored Jaguars, many of them with chauffeurs. I took a Fine Arts degree: painting, sculpture, printmaking. It had little to do with words, except for Art History essays. I hadn’t written much before that or been exposed to Literature written, or Art created, before or during the twentieth century. The nuns were great at ignoring culture in our Catholic insulated world.
My mother, saint though she was, wasn’t good at housework; if she washed a floor I realize (only now) how far that was outside her comfort zone. Back then, our shoes just stuck to the kitchen floor and after the advent of the Electrolux and the excitement it generated, it lived out its dull life in the basement, coming out only for special occasions. If Dad’s co-workers at Shell were coming to play cards, for instance. Or for the bridal shower my mother held for me in which I was wrapped in toilet paper and blushed virginally as I unrolled it as every one of my comments was turned into an earthy joke I didn’t understand. What was so funny about ‘At least it’s soft…’
A few days ago a poet on Facebook shared a conversation with Edward O Wilson and Robert Haas from The Poetic Series. E. O. said the creative arts are the sharing of our inner desires and humanity’s struggle. Hass spoke of the paradox of stillness and motion in great art, desire appeased and awakened, Wilson of Science and Art having the same creative wellspring. I could argue that there is science in the old Filter Queen.
At the Black Squirrel book store I picked up Provinces by Czeslaw Milosz translated by Robert Haas. In the poem ‘Creating the World’, Milosz portrays the Celestial board members submitting design ideas: a hedgehog, a soprano, panties with lace. Obviously these designs would never come into existence. Too ridiculous. Would have been turned down flat on Dragon’s Den. Then Milosz laments ‘If only it all could last, but no way.’
Dust balls proliferate: Russia and the Ukraine, Israel and the Gaza, the lady on TV who writes love letters to her armpit, my sister who lives in a rural area drops by on her way to Walmart to buy a gun so she can pick off the squirrels at the bird feeder, and all those photos of wedding parties leaping into the air, blue of Caribbean in the background.
The kasen renga, a collaborative Japanese form of thirty-six verses, should aim to encompass the whole world. Subjects such as movies, sports, the arts, war, slang, sex and vacuums are the key to the success of the genre. It could be said that lyric poetry is the same. So I’ll unplug the Filter Queen to edit The Queen of the Night Straddles a Vespa, make it a better poem after last night’s comments from the critique group. Poems about Jesus in the Montreal subway? Why not. Juxtaposed verses. Yes.
What was that brilliant idea I had when I was vacuuming. The problem is concentration. Don’t think of Haas or Wilson when you are digging into corners. Whatever I’ve lost might have given depth and zing to The Queen of the Night. There was a prayer we used to say when we lost something. ‘Good Saint Anthony, please come round. Something’s lost and it can’t be found.’ I’ve neglected St. Anthony though, for years, so no luck there, although I must admit he still comes through when I am desperate.
Outside the air is soft and cool. I sprinkle fresh blood meal around the potatoes, cucumbers and potatoes that are growing well in containers. Squirrels hate the smell of blood meal. I’ve lost enough tomatoes to them. This break before I go back to write.
What a crazy morning. One wants to stop thinking, reading. In The Rapids, by Susan Gillis, she writes in a poem called ‘Glimpse: Poetry’, ‘…As for poetry, it lurks’.