Fragments

This world does not tolerate fragility.


How can a person be here and then not be here? I'll never comprehend it.


Trauma erases the future. I live moment by moment.


Documenting the life I have and the life I lost.


What was my father's last vision?


The scene in Cría Cuervos when Geraldine Chaplin bites Ana Torrent's neck. The vampirism of dead parents, how they sink their teeth in and drain us dry.


I mourn you. I mourn myself. I will mourn until I am dead. Only death ends the mourning and the grief and the longing for the dead.


Capitalism traumatizes. The trauma comes at the moment when you are turned from human to machine, when you realize you are not a person but a worker defined by your productivity. I'm against capitalism and what it does to our bodies and our lives, what it's done to my body and my life. My father was poor and died because of it, because his life was not seen as valuable in a capitalist system. This world lets poor people die every day.


I am loved deeply by my mother and I will always be grateful for that. Whatever happens, I've known love.


I speak only in fragments.


A memory of lying in bed with my mother; we were holding one another. I thought I want to stop time. I never want this moment to end, but it did end. Everything ends, and I cannot bear it.

Stephen Dunn - A Coldness

I don't know if it's a coldness
or just how the body, overloaded,
tends to shut down,
but as my brother neared death
I felt nothing that resembled grief.
Our unfinished business
finished long ago, our love
for each other spoken and real,
there wasn't much more to say
but goodbye, and one morning
we said it–a small moment–
and one of us cried.
From then on he was delusional,
the cancer making him
stupid, insistently so, and lost.
I wanted him to die.
And I wished his wife
would say A shame
instead of God's will. Or if God
had such a will, Shame on Him.
Days later, at the viewing,
again I wanted to feel something,
but for whom? That powdered stranger
lying there, that nobody I knew?
I was far away, parsing grief,
turning it over in my mind.
He was simply gone, a dead thing,
anybody's sack of bones.
Only when his son spoke,
measuring with precise, slow-
to-arrive language the father
he had lost, did something in me move.
There was my brother restored,
abstracted, made of words now.

source: TriQuarterly

Secret Sunshine (2007)






A film I should have taken notes on, but I was too immersed in it to do anything but lie there in the darkness and feel the devastation of every scene.

Do-yeon Jeon's face, her sobbing, the way she gasps for air and clutches her chest because the grief is strangling her. The way she stands in the middle of the street, not caring if a car hits her. The way she shrieks and weeps in public, so visibly disintegrating. Her rage at God, at people. Oh how she tries to go on, to find peace, to be the inspiration, the happy ending, but the pretending is too much.

I thought the whole time: This is raw. This is real and honest. This is a grief rarely seen on screen. It is bodily. It is under the skin, in the blood, surging from the guts.

Her face will stay with me always. Tear-streaked and agonized like Maria Falconetti in La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc. But unlike Jeanne, God is not there, never was there. God is nowhere. And all she has is her grief.

Fragments

Everything I write is grief. Everything I will ever write is grief.


Everything haunts me and this is why I write.


I must bear the unbearable.


If I can't destroy this grief, then I'll confront it. I will write about it and other people's grief.


This blog--an archive of loss.


Constant fear of death, of the body's stopping.


It occurs to me that I would be like this even if my father was alive. At least I was spared the indignity of being a failure in his eyes. He didn't have to witness my decay.


What are these but the words of a woman waiting to die?


Notes on Louise Bourgeois--> you deal with the past by making art about it. The art purges the past from you. The only way to deal with the past is to reconstruct it, go into it. Then, you let it go. Art as a path to freedom.


Edith Piaf at the seances with her friends, trying to bring Cerdan back from the dead. Singing him alive. The spectacle of her grief. The "peanut-crunching crowd" flocking to her concert at the Versailles the night he died. The grotesque voyeurism of it, but the catharsis, too. She sang for them, sang a loss they understood.


The death inside me gives me life.


These fragments are my life's work.


They'll say of me: what a waste.


Always on the verge, or in the midst, of an existential crisis. Always Esther Greenwood in New York, losing all my illusions, confronting a world I cannot bear.


Notes on Martha Graham--> "Dance is communication." Freedom comes through discipline. Everyone is born with genius, but some only have it for a few minutes. The house of the body holds the divine spirit. The only competition is the self, the person you know you can be. "A dancer's world is the heart of man."


I'll never be young again. I never was young.


All I can do is write and survive, write and survive. I have the determination to keep expressing all of myself through language even though nothing I write is enough. I could write every second without end, and it would never be enough. How to say things only ever said in my mind? How to make a life of them? How to live consciously and with intent? By that, I mean doing more than survive or skim. I don't feel engaged with life. The fear is so powerful. I am all fear, there is no space for anything else.


No matter what the religious and non-religious say about death--that it's either a homecoming or a drop into the abyss--I can't stop fearing it. Wittgenstein said something like we don't live to experience death. We will never know death because to know it we'd have to be alive and conscious and death is the antithesis of that; it's the destruction of it. None of us will know death, then. We will be dead and that's beyond us, that's outside our perception. Needless to say, this does not comfort me. Nothing does. The terror only grows and my life shrinks. Everything I do is to mitigate my anxiety and my fear of death. In many ways, my life is a prison, but the bars are both my catastrophe and my protection for they keep me safe and allow me to survive.

Ana Teresa Fernández - Borrando la Frontera, 2011




The surreal act of erasing a border is documented in the short, Borrando la Frontera. A woman in stilettos and a black cocktail dress scales a 30 ft ladder on the sandy beach of Tijuana, bringing the sky back between Mexico and the US, as she paints the dividing fence blue. The film depicts the peace offering of creating the illusion of a “hole in the wall.” The protagonist becomes more visible as the wall starts to disappear into the blue sky. Her attire, the little black dress reflects the notion of prosperity in the US, moreover the funerary symbol of luto, the Mexican tradition of wearing black for a year after a death. Mourning those who have died in attempts of crossing this border to prosper.
 —Woodstock Film Festival

sources:
Artists of Colour
Ana Teresa Fernández

Sylvia Plath - Full Fathom Five

Old man, you surface seldom.
Then you come in with the tide's coming
When seas wash cold, foam-

Capped: white hair, white beard, far-flung,
A dragnet, rising, falling, as waves
Crest and trough. Miles long

Extend the radial sheaves
Of your spread hair, in which wrinkling skeins
Knotted, caught, survives

The old myth of orgins
Unimaginable. You float near
As kneeled ice-mountains

Of the north, to be steered clear
Of, not fathomed. All obscurity
Starts with a danger:

Your dangers are many. I
Cannot look much but your form suffers
Some strange injury

And seems to die: so vapors
Ravel to clearness on the dawn sea.
The muddy rumors

Of your burial move me
To half-believe: your reappearance
Proves rumors shallow,

For the archaic trenched lines
Of your grained face shed time in runnels:
Ages beat like rains

On the unbeaten channels
Of the ocean. Such sage humor and
Durance are whirlpools

To make away with the ground-
Work of the earth and the sky's ridgepole.
Waist down, you may wind

One labyrinthine tangle
To root deep among knuckles, shinbones,
Skulls. Inscrutable,

Below shoulders not once
Seen by any man who kept his head,
You defy questions;

You defy godhood.
I walk dry on your kingdom's border
Exiled to no good.

Your shelled bed I remember.
Father, this thick air is murderous.
I would breathe water.

William Shakespeare - from "Ariel's Song"

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Ding-dong.
Hark! now I hear them — Ding-dong, bell.

When You Can't Be The Daughter Your Mother Deserves

I'm sorry.
I'm sorry I am struggling.
I'm sorry I can't get out of bed.
I'm sorry I want to die.
I'm sorry all I think about is my dead father.
I'm sorry I need to be alone more than I need to be with you.
I'm sorry you are not enough.
I'm sorry I cannot speak.
I'm sorry this grief has ruined me.
I"m sorry I love you so much it devastates me.
I'm sorry I fear your death every moment of my life.
I'm sorry this fear stops me from being present with you.
I'm sorry I do not want to be here.
I'm sorry you lost everyone you ever loved and then lost me, too.
I'm sorry that when you gave me life, mother, you also gave me death.

Edith Piaf and the Death of Marcel Cerdan

Marcel Cerdan and Edith Piaf

Edith Piaf performing at The Versailles on the night of Cerdan's death

From 1948 to 1949, French singer Edith Piaf and pied noir boxer Marcel Cerdan carried on a passionate love affair that was tragically cut short when Cerdan died in a plane crash on October 28, 1949. Carolyn Burke, in her biography No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf, details Piaf's dramatic and heartbreaking reaction to Cerdan's death:
All New York knew of the disaster by early afternoon, when Edith, still in her dressing gown, emerged from her bedroom to find her friends pacing nervously. Thinking that they were playing a joke, that Marcel was behind the door, she asked gaily, "Why are you hiding?" Barrier took her in his arms. "Edith, you must be brave," he said. "There are no survivors." As she began screaming, the men rushed to secure the windows. Edith sobbed all afternoon, unable to accept what she knew to be true.
When Barrier alerted the Versailles to cancel her appearance, the manager came to her apartment with the vegetable broth he brought her each night before she went onstage. She drank it, turned to him, and said that she would sing after all. Her entourage tried in vain to protect her from the journalists besieging the apartment. Once she realized that the whole town knew of the disaster, she spoke briefly with a photographer who asked her about her plans. "Oh, Marcel!" she exclaimed, and burst into tears.
On the way to the Versailles she stopped at a nearby church to light a candle in the hope that he was alive. The club was tense, sympathizers having rushed to book all available seats. When Piaf came onstage, Bonel and Chauvigny had tears in their eyes. She embraced them and told the audience, "Tonight I'm singing for Marcel Cerdan." She managed to get through her repertoire until "Hymne a l'amour." Feeling faint, she clutched the curtain, then collapsed before she could sing the final line, "God reunites those who love each other." 
"I can think of only one thing, to join him," Piaf told Bourgeat three days later. "I have nothing left to live for. Singing? I sang for him. My repertoire was full of love, and you can be sure that I'll sing my story each night. What's more, each song reminds me of his gestures, things he said, everything reminds me of him. It was the first time I was really happy. I lived for him, he was my reason for being, for my car, my clothes, the springtime, they were all for him." Along with intense grief, she was also suffering from acute arthritic pain in her joints. The first of a series of attacks that would plague her for the rest of her life. It was a condition brought on, her entourage thought, by the shock to her system after the death of Cerdan.
Some weeks later, she told another friend, "I try in vain to understand but I can't. The pain gets worse each day. I would never have imagined I'd wish for death as a deliverance, a joy. I was someone who loved life and now I hate it." On November 10, after Cerdan's remains were identified by his watchband (a gift from Piaf), a state funeral was held in France, where his disappearance was a national tragedy."
Piaf attended seances with the hopes of contacting Cerdan. The seances were arranged and executed by her entourage who believed their trickery necessary in order to keep Piaf alive. But, more than anything, Piaf's music and her dedication to her fans gave her the strength to survive the loss of the man she considered the great love of her life:
Years later, Piaf recovered some of the serenity that had deserted her when Cerdan died. Near the end of her life, she wrote, "I know that death is only the start of something else. Our soul regains its freedom." But at the time, unable to regain her equilibrium, she kept on performing through sheer force of will. Piaf later wrote that she made the decision to live for her public: "Our lives do not belong to us. Courage makes us keep on till the end. In any case, since then Marcel has never left me." But her intimates agreed that she was never the same.
Burke goes on to examine how Cerdan's death, and Piaf's subsequent public displays of grief, contributed to her iconic status and allowed her to forge an intimate bond with audiences around the world:
Although tempting, it is beside the point to speculate about their relationship had Cerdan survived. Piaf's view of earthly love as akin to the divine is disconcerting to those who do not sympathize with her spirituality. But, whatever one thinks of her mystical bent, it is more fruitful to grasp what the loss of Cerdan meant to the singer's imagination than to "demystify" her response--to see how it shaped the rest of her career and the rapport with the audience who shared her grief. To this end, we may recall the Freudian notion of sublimation--the coping mechanism by which erotic energy is transformed into achievements of artistic expression. From this perspective, Piaf's actions after Cerdan's death may be seen as ways of refocusing her energy, comforted by the knowledge that, in their own way, her compatriots mourned the death of their hero along with her.


When Women Waken: Fall 2013 Issue 3 - Grief

The literary journal When Women Waken has devoted its Fall 2013 issue to the subject of grief. There is a wide selection of poetry and prose that I'm currently making my way through. I thought this issue would interest other people in search of literature that addresses loss. The whole issue is available for free at the journal's website:

http://www.booksbywomen.org/whenwomenwaken/fall-2013-issue-3-grief-contents/

Remembering Oscar Grant

Oscar Grant with his daughter, Tatiana, in 2007


The release of Fruitvale Station in 2013 brought renewed attention to the life and tragic death of Oscar Grant, who was killed by a police officer on New Year's Day in 2009. The film is one of the most devastating I've ever seen. On the fifth anniversary of Oscar's death, his grandmother, Bonnie Johnson, talked to Colorlines about her grandson's personality and the difficulty of living without him:

Oscar called me grandma. And we didn’t have any nickname, I called him Oscar. He was a good grandson. He did a lot of things for me. We’re coming up on five years and it’s a bad time of year. This is a bad time of year because we’re close to the anniversary, and his mother Wanda’s birthday is on the 31st and it happened that very same night. They were here at the house just before they went to San Francisco. It’s a bad time for his mom, Wanda. It just comes back real quick, like no time at all has passed.
[...]
Oscar was very smart. You didn’t have to tell him but one time how to do something and he was just that wise. He was real athletic and into football and basketball. He’d go fishing with his grandfather. Oscar’s grandfather taught him how to bait the hook, and how to fish, and believe it or not, Oscar caught the biggest fish almost all the time. He was close to his grandpa, and after Mr. Johnson had his stroke, Oscar would come in and mow the lawn and do this and that for me. He knew Papa was sick, and wasn’t able to do that. Oscar was allergic to grass but he still would put his mask on and mow the lawn. He was a child that was willing to help his grandparents. He’d come in and say, “Grandma got anything for me to do?” and I say, “Well I can’t think of nothin’.”
[...]
 For the last few years on New Year’s Day I have done nothing much. I stay here and take care of Mr. Johnson. The kids go on and visit the grave, different things like that. I say a prayer for them. And they go up to the grave on his birthday, and they had food up there the last time. They gather ‘round.
A lot of times if my mind really gets to thinking, that’s when I go. They don’t know but I go up and visit Oscar’s gravesite. I drive up the hill and visit the grave. I just kind of think about his life. Usually when I go by myself I wonder. He would be 28, 29 right now and I wonder what he’d have been. Your mind wants to think, what he could have done. I know he would be working with his daughter Taty if he were here. I know that. I think about his life, if he could have just lived a little bit longer. But it wasn’t meant to be.
Read the full article at Colorlines