Pretend, for example, that you were born in Chicago and have never had the remotest desire to visit Hong Kong, which is only a name on a map for you; pretend that some convulsion, sometimes called accident, throws you into connection with a man or a woman who lives in Hong Kong; and that you fall in love. Hong Kong will immediately cease to be a name and become the center of your life. And you may never know how many people live in Hong Kong. But you will know that one man or one woman lives there without whom you cannot live. And this is how our lives are changed, and this is how we are redeemed.
What a journey this life is! Dependent, entirely, on things unseen. If your lover lives in Hong Kong and cannot get to Chicago, it will be necessary for you to go to Hong Kong. Perhaps you will spend your life there, and never see Chicago again. And you will, I assure you, as long as space and time divide you from anyone you love, discover a great deal about shipping routes, airlines, earth quake, famine, disease, and war. And you will always know what time it is in Hong Kong, for you love someone who lives there. And love will simply have no choice but to go into battle with space and time and, furthermore, to win.
On Leontyne Price's 95th birthday tomorrow, please enjoy her stunning "Vissi d'arte" as Tosca – one of the most transcendent arias ever written, delivered by the most soaring voice, which Jessye Norman called "a cloud filled with silver".
I lived for my art, I lived for love, I never did harm to a living soul! With a secret hand I relieved as many misfortunes as I knew of. Always with true faith my prayer rose to the holy shrines. Always with true faith I gave flowers to the altar. In the hour of grief why, why, o Lord, why do you reward me thus? I gave jewels for the Madonna’s mantle, and I gave my song to the stars, to heaven, which smiled with more beauty. In the hour of grief why, why, o Lord, ah, why do you reward me thus?
Midway through 2017, John Prine came into my life. Trump was playing golf, I was working late — I was feeling enormously citified and wishing I was back on the farm. Out of nowhere, “Spanish Pipedream” hit me over the head, and I went dizzy for a few weeks.
Blow up your TV Throw away your paper Go to the country, build you a home Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches Try an’ find Jesus on your own
It ran through my head all summer. As I walked the city at night, I would wonder whether we should move back to Goldendale. My job was grueling, and I was surrounded by a hustle I didn’t quite know what to do with. I tried to decide whether to fit in or get out, and I squirmed through the meetings either way. Working late, alone at the office, I’d listen to Fair & Square on the company speakers.
That town will make you crazy Just give it a little time You’ll be walking ’round in circles Lookin’ for that country rhyme
A year later, I quit my job and took another one where I felt a little more like myself. I built a boat, did a little fishing, and traveled around with my sweetheart. Sarah and I decided to stay in the Tri-Cities, and we decided to have kids, in spite of ourselves. We thought we were busy, and that the world was stressful, and I suppose it was. You never know what’s coming next, but it’s amazing how the ordinary bits shine in the rear-view mirror.
Ain’t it funny how an old broken bottle Looks just like a diamond ring
In 2019, I became a foster dad. My ‘Chicken Nugget’ was the giggliest, cutest, most serious and sassy little girl I’d ever met, and she wiggled her way into my heart like nobody else could. Sarah and I stayed up late with her, checking every time her breathing changed. What was supposed to be a few weeks became a few months, and then became more than a few years. We never knew how long we’d be together, but every day felt like the best one, the worst one, and the funniest one yet.
I bronzed my shoes and I hung ’em from a rearview mirror Bronzed admiration in a blind spot of regret There was all these things that I don’t think I remember Hey, how lucky can one man get?
The day John Prine died, it was a Monday. We had a social work meeting that morning. It was the third week of lockdowns in Washington state. It was the feast of the Annunciation. I didn’t get much done at work. I checked his Pickathon concert, planned for the summer. Tickets were still available.
Mama dear, your boy is here Far across the sea Waiting for that sacred coal That burns inside of me
Death is never warm to sit with, but people can sure get numb. Perhaps that’s the real tragic part — not being able to cry. Once you’ve heard a few friends of friends die, you’ve heard them all? Some people only have four grandparents; some people have a dozen. All depends on how you count.
I hear a lot of empty spaces I see a big hole in the view I feel an outline that traces An imaginary path back to you This ain't no ordinary blue
Chicken Nugget’s big brother, Bubbies, came to live with us, too. We were all locked down in our house that sizzling, smothery summer. We spent a lot of time outside, or at the skatepark, or by the river. Bubbies learned how to jump his bike. Sarah and I planted a huge garden, and our pumpkins took over the block. I spent long hours walking the city at night. The washer machine flooded the basement with a half-inch of water. It all happened so fast that even now I have a hard time remembering how it all felt. At the time, it felt like a carnival ride you’re too dizzy to understand, and some days that’s how it still feels. There were sad days, and scary days, and goofy days — and in the end, it was something.
That’s the way that the world goes ’round. You’re up one day and the next you’re down. It’s half an inch of water and you think you’re gonna drown. That’s the way that the world goes ’round.
As the year went on, it felt like the whole world was shuffling around. Friends I used to talk to all the time became passing acquaintances. Passing acquaintances became good friends. Sarah’s huge dinner parties became more intimate ones in the backyard. Old stores closed down, old friends passed away, some grandparents ordered their food on delivery, and some grandparents traveled the country. Everybody was trying something new.
It’s a mighty mean and a dreadful sorrow It’s crossed the evil line today How can you ask about tomorrow When we ain’t got one word to say?
My life got busier. Chicken Nugget and Bubbies had a baby brother born in 2021, and sleep left me for good (for now). Li’l Man spent his first summer soaking up the giggly chaos around him, the better to dish it back in spades. The garden had another good year. Friends grew fewer but closer, and my nightly walks got shorter.
And down on the beach, the sandman sleeps Time don’t fly, it bounds and leaps And a country music band that plays for keeps They play it so slow
These days, it feels as if the world is paused in turbulence. Nothing’s changing exactly, since change is the only constant. This year, the garden languished, but we spent the summer outside. Every few days there’s some horrible news, but when has it ever not been that way?
Father forgive us for what we must do You forgive us we’ll forgive you We’ll forgive each other till we both turn blue Then we’ll whistle and go fishing in heaven
My nightly walks are less frequent now, but my dog Hank never gives up hope. Will it be tonight? Will it be down by the river, or through the cemetery? Will we pee on the Tahitian bar sandwich sign, or on the all-year Halloween decor? It takes a lot for the world to surprise me these days, and it takes a lot to scare me. At home it’s another story — every scraped knee is scary, and every crayon picture is surprising.
Someday I’ll take it all in stride.
The fundamental story Of the contemporary man Is to walk away and someday understand
Élisabeth Chaplin (b. 1890) was a French painter who lived in Tuscany for most of her life. She was connected to many of the painters of the Les Nabis movement, and much of her work relates to the themes of symbolism, post-impressionism, and early modernism.
She spent much of her life at Villa Treppiede in Fiesole, Florence, and continued painting up until her death in 1982.
I had walked since dawn and lay down to rest on a bare hillside Above the ocean. I saw through half-shut eyelids a vulture wheeling high up in heaven, And presently it passed again, but lower and nearer, its orbit narrowing, I understood then That I was under inspection. I lay death-still and heard the flight- feathers Whistle above me and make their circle and come nearer. I could see the naked red head between the great wings Bear downward staring. I said, 'My dear bird, we are wasting time here. These old bones will still work; they are not for you.' But how beautiful he looked, gliding down On those great sails; how beautiful he looked, veering away in the sea-light over the precipice. I tell you solemnly That I was sorry to have disappointed him. To be eaten by that beak and become part of him, to share those wings and those eyes-- What a sublime end of one's body, what an enskyment; what a life after death.
-- Robinson Jeffers, Carmel-by-the-Sea, published posthumously in TheBeginning and the End (1963)