Heart - Stairway To Heaven

It's Halloween night. I've spent the evening eating candy and watching a few scary movies. Earlier, my mom called me and said that she has very few photographs of me as a child on Halloween. I wonder why we didn't take more pictures? I remember one of me as a toddler with my parents. My father is in the photo. I wish I had it with me right now. I'd like to see his face. I still remember him and mama taking me to different houses on Halloween. They always made it so special. I miss those times.

By accident, I came across this performance of Heart singing "Stairway To Heaven" at the Kennedy Center Honors for Led Zeppelin. Just a random video that popped up in my facebook feed and now, after watching it twice, I'm sobbing and shaking because my father would have loved it. He introduced me to both Heart and Led Zeppelin, giving me CDs of their music which I still own. The performance is transcendent. Ann Wilson's voice overwhelms you. It feels like a state of grace.

I'm alone tonight. It's too late to call anyone for comfort and what would I say anyways? No one can restore my life to what it was. No one can bring him back to me.

There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold
And she's buying a stairway to heaven.
When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for.
Ooh, ooh, and she's buying a stairway to heaven.

There's a sign on the wall but she wants to be sure
'Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.
In a tree by the brook, there's a songbird who sings,
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven.

Ooh, it makes me wonder,
Ooh, it makes me wonder.

There's a feeling I get when I look to the west,
And my spirit is crying for leaving.
In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees,
And the voices of those who stand looking.

Ooh, it makes me wonder,
Ooh, it really makes me wonder.

And it's whispered that soon, if we all call the tune,
Then the piper will lead us to reason.
And a new day will dawn for those who stand long,
And the forests will echo with laughter.

If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now,
It's just a sprinkling for the May queen.
Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
There's still time to change the road you're on.
And it makes me wonder.

Your head is humming and it won't go, in case you don't know,
The piper's calling you to join him,
Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow, and did you know
Your stairway lies on the whispering wind?

And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul.
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to stone.
And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last.
When we all are one and one is all
To be a rock and not to roll.

And she's buying a stairway to heaven.

The Medieval View of Death

Most of the time we try not to think about death, but the people of the Middle Ages didn't have that luxury. Death was always close at hand, for young and old, rich and poor - even before the horrors of the Black Death, which killed millions in a few short months. 
However, for the people of the Middle Ages death wasn't an end but a doorway to everlasting life. The Church taught that an eternity spent in heaven or hell was much more important than this life's fleeting achievements and there was much you could do to prepare for the next life in this one. 
Medieval Lives: A Good Death (BBC Four)

Mary Oliver - We Shake With Joy

We shake with joy, we shake with
What a time they have, these two
housed as they are in the same

Anzhelina Polonskaya - A person who is no longer here

A person who is no longer here.

Like after a neutron bomb explodes,
You touch yourself—
                         where the memory of him is.
The noise of a train outside the faded curtain,
the barking of the neighbor’s dog from March to February,
are the sounds of our humanity-hating age,
and of one nonentity put in charge,
a spoon, your plate, a stream of water from the faucet,
a piece of soap,
which is by no means unimportant,
you have admit, there’s even the air
you breathe so as not to suffocate.

But the person’s not here. His dressing gown is empty.
Only his initials remain, you can stick anyone you like
into them
but you can’t trick the emptiness

Translated by Andrew Wachtel

Doris Salcedo - Atrabiliarios, 1992 - 2009

Doris Salcedo makes sculptures and installations about and in response to the violence and conflict of everyday life in her native country of Colombia. Like German artist Joseph Beuys, Salcedo sees her art as representing a social conscience, with her role as a perpetual witness. In a sense the work gives voice to those in Colombian society who are violently repressed, silenced and controlled by fear, and provides the focus for a sense of community, even defiance, though a collective memory and a shared experience of loss.

The materials she works with: simple furniture like wardrobes, tables and chairs, clothing, thread and animal skin, speak of the sanctity and familiarity of everyday domestic life. Through her molding or reshaping of these pieces - embedding a chair within a doorframe, grafting two tables into an unstable hybrid - she creates a traumatized, dysfunctional, object. 
With the clothes, each object implies a nameless person; the wearer. In the piece "Atrabiliarios," meaning defiant, old shoes, in pairs and singles, are encased in a row of wall alcoves, behind sheets of translucent animal skin which are crudely stitched to the wall. Below on the floor are small boxes, like living caskets, made from the same animal membrane. The shoes which bear the marks of wear, all belonged to women who were 'disappeared', and were donated to the artist by victims' families. Their place here, hazily visible through the skin sheet, echoes the persistent memory for all those whose fate and whereabouts is unknown, permanently suspended between the present and the past. "Thus 'Atrabiliarios' is not only a portrait of disappearance, but a portrait of the survivors' mental condition of wracking uncertainty, longing and mourning."
--Institute of International Visual Arts 

thanks to artistsofcolour , Sergio Clavijo, and Hanneorla Hanneorla

Untitled #3

Years after the funeral,
as I am walking in a parking garage
alone, the question comes:
Was it your death
or mine?

Untitled #2

Every time I pass a cemetery
I search for the mound of dirt
that marks a new grave.
Finding it, I look away
because I know:

Another daughter will bury a father.
Another girl will become me.

Untitled # 1

I want nothing.
I want the impossible:
everyone who vanished.

Sarah Freligh - Wondrous

I’m driving home from school when the radio talk
turns to E.B. White, his birthday, and I exit
the here and now of the freeway at rush hour,

travel back into the past, where my mother is reading
to my sister and me the part about Charlotte laying her eggs
and dying, and though this is the fifth time Charlotte

has died, my mother is crying again, and we’re laughing
at her because we know nothing of loss and its sad math,
how every subtraction is exponential, how each grief

multiplies the one preceding it, how the author tried
seventeen times to record the words She died alone
without crying, seventeen takes and a short walk during

which he called himself ridiculous, a grown man crying
for a spider he’d spun out of the silk thread of invention —
wondrous how those words would come back and make

him cry, and, yes, wondrous to hear my mother’s voice
ten years after the day she died — the catch, the rasp,
the gathering up before she could say to us, I’m ok.

Sylvia Plath - Electra on Azalea Path

The day you died I went into the dirt,
Into the lightless hibernaculum
Where bees, striped black and gold, sleep out the blizzard
Like hieratic stones, and the ground is hard.
It was good for twenty years, that wintering -
As if you never existed, as if I came
God-fathered into the world from my mother's belly:
Her wide bed wore the stain of divinity.
I had nothing to do with guilt or anything
When I wormed back under my mother's heart.

Small as a doll in my dress of innocence
I lay dreaming your epic, image by image.
Nobody died or withered on that stage.
Everything took place in a durable whiteness.
The day I woke, I woke on Churchyard Hill.
I found your name, I found your bones and all
Enlisted in a cramped stone askew by an iron fence.

In this charity ward, this poorhouse, where the dead
Crowd foot to foot, head to head, no flower
Breaks the soil. This is Azalea path.
A field of burdock opens to the south.
Six feet of yellow gravel cover you.
The artificial red sage does not stir
In the basket of plastic evergreens they put
At the headstone next to yours, nor does it rot,
Although the rains dissolve a bloody dye:
The ersatz petals drip, and they drip red.

Another kind of redness bothers me:
The day your slack sail drank my sister's breath
The flat sea purpled like that evil cloth
My mother unrolled at your last homecoming.
I borrow the silts of an old tragedy.
The truth is, one late October, at my birth-cry
A scorpion stung its head, an ill-starred thing;
My mother dreamed you face down in the sea.

The stony actors poise and pause for breath.
I brought my love to bear, and then you died.
It was the gangrene ate you to the bone
My mother said: you died like any man.
How shall I age into that state of mind?
I am the ghost of an infamous suicide,
My own blue razor rusting at my throat.
O pardon the one who knocks for pardon at
Your gate, father - your hound-bitch, daughter, friend.
It was my love that did us both to death.

Memory and Mourning

In a class I'm taking this semester about Human Rights literature, we read texts that bear witness to atrocity. We grapple with large, almost unanswerable questions about how to put loss into language, how to say the unsayable. We acknowledge that sometimes silence is the only response. There are experiences that words cannot touch. Still, the victims of Hiroshima, the Holocaust, Rwanda, militaristic regimes in Guatemala and Chile, and other atrocities, continue to write and create art. They cannot stop searching for a form that will convey the horror they experienced.

Bearing witness is always about memory, about confronting the past and not allowing it to be forgotten. Never forget, we say, as if one can turn the past off like a spigot, as if it does not perpetually flow into the present. How can mourning ever stop when we are immersed in memory? To live is to remember. To live is really to re-live, on a constant basis, the traumas of our past. I wonder if we bear witness in the futile hope that releasing the memories will purge them from our minds and bodies. Maybe that works for some people. But what if it's not enough to say what happened? How do we accept the impossibility of closure and healing? What if we find a form for the pain, even a language, but we are still devastated, still grief-stricken?

Fred Ramos - La Silla Vacía (The Empty Chair)

images and text via digbicks

According to the criminalist Israel Ticas, if a person in El Salvador disappears and spends more than three days without being found, it is most likely that the person will not be found alive. But for the relatives of the disappeared person, a mother for example, the hope of finding that person alive will only be gone until proven otherwise.
Living with such uncertainty immerses families in a state of unresolved grief. The Empty Chair therapy is a technique from the Gestalt psychology which uses a chair as a tool to allow the patient to close circles, such as unresolved grief. In therapy, the patient projects the absent person and establishes a verbal communication with them in order to understand that although the person does not exist in a physical reality, it exists in a psychological reality.
  1. Ángela de Calles: Mother of Andrés Fernando Calles, who disappeared on March 24, 2012   at the age of 19.   
  2. Margarita Andrade: Grandmother of Bryan Alejandro Portillo. Bryan was raised by Margarita since he was 3 months old until he was 16 when he disappeared on October  8, 2009.  
  3. Romelia Campos: Mother of Edwin Antonio Mendez Ramos, who disappeared on January 10, 2011.  
  4. Margarita María Melara: Mother of Jaime Antonio Saavedra Melara, 19, who disappeared on August 21, 2009; and Fausto Zamora Carlos Melara, 32, who disappeared on June 26, 2011.  
  5. Ana de Contreras: Mother of Alejandro Contreras, who disappeared 7 years ago, on May 8, 2006.