Tag Archives: Loneliness

The Trick

Living alone changes a person.  I have lived alone nearly three years now, after 27 years of marriage.  The longer I live alone, the more difficult it is for me to be around people.  I become anxious as they use my towels, dirty my dishes, watch my TV, sleep in my spare beds (not making them the next morning), and occupy my space.  I feel compelled to put everything back in its place when they leave.  When I began this new phase of my life, I could foresee the danger of drawing into myself with time as I lived alone.  I wrote this poem one week into the experience.  I fear I have fulfilled my own poetic prophecy of misanthropy.  I need to work that much harder to be social with people in their space and in my space.  If I am not careful, I will become the hermit I feared.  (I am not feeling sorry for myself, just noticing subtleties of change in a human spirit.)

THE TRICK

This will be the trick:
to not slip into idiosyncrasy,
peculiarity, even
queerness,
needing everything to be
just so, or nothing
to be just so;
to not harden to stone or ice, but
to not melt entirely away.

(I took the above photo of a sunrise moon from my apartment balcony a few days ago.)

Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure and magical farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Sphere of Absence

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Sphere of Absence by Erin Frances Baker

I exited a posh downtown law firm revolving door to accompany several high-priced litigators to lunch.  As a municipal attorney, my city was their client, and I its representative.  Hundreds of people walked every which way, moving single-mindedly toward their various destinations.  Car horns honked.  Crosswalk lights chirped.  People talked animatedly.  Buses dieseled by.  Trolley car power cables sizzled.  On the corner, in the middle of the commotion, sat a homeless woman, dirty, dressed in rags, her hair ratty.  She sat and rocked and wailed inconsolably.  No one paid her any mind.  They merely arced around her from their many directions, creating a sphere of absence around her.  I approached her, but not too close, to see her better.  I ached for her, yet feared to enter that intimidating sphere.  I marveled that she remained invisible to the bustling world around her. Still, though I saw her and felt for her, I too arced clear and moved on to my worldly business.  Below is my poem describing the encounter, entitled “Sphere of Absence.”

My daughter, Erin Frances Baker, adapted my poem for her acrylic-on-board masterpiece, changing the character of my homeless woman to the lighter, but still isolated and nearly invisible, figure of a street performer.  I hope you enjoy the poem and the painting.

SPHERE OF ABSENCE

She sat on the corner
of a bustling city street:
a surreal reminder
of an unfriendly reality;
a sad black-and-white cutout,
pasted, out of place,
into the noisy, colorful hustle
of illusory pursuits.
Mute faces ate and laughed
behind thick glass panes;
wingtips and heels stepped past
in all directions,
carving a polygonal sphere,
untouched, unvisited,
seen but ignored, unknown.
Unknowable.
Above the train-wheel grind and clatter,
the honking horns,
the crosswalk chirps,
the biting wind,
and the chatter, rose
a soft, wailing cry,
a muffled desperation,
a distracted pouring-out
of a fractured soul
into the lonely sphere of absence.

 

My book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road, has recently been published in print and for Kindle.  You can read about it here.

An Evening

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I contemplate. Everything. I don’t mean to; I just do. I notice my abundance and my scarcity. I think about my gifts and talents, and worry about my abyssal weaknesses. I ponder my joy and my sadness, my human connections and my loneliness. I try not to allow meditation to slip into obsession, or depression. And my observations are not just about me. I thrill at the beauties of nature. The world, and life, are simply filled with mystery and unfathomableness and beauty and suffering that beg to be studied, to be understood. So I contemplate. This poem contemplates a quiet evening alone.

AN EVENING

A fish fillet simmers
in basil and salted lemon juice.
The baked potato steams
with butter and sour cream gobs.
Three cobs of corn.
Absence of conversation.

Fingers fumble with chords,
picking awkward patterns.
Crooning “Blackbird.”
Absence of applause.

On the big bed,
looking at paintings
on the walls.

Sing To Me

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During a separation some years ago, I often wondered if life were worth living.  I was not suicidal, but I lacked a desire to live.  Lying in my bed in the dark of night, I would whisper to the ceiling, to the universe, Give me a reason to live.  Of course, there are many reasons to go on living in spite of our physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering.  Listing them is an easy exercise.  But in suffering’s crucible these reasons can be hard to discern, let alone appreciate.  In this poem I identify a few reasons that just merely hoping for gave me an ounce of strength to go on living and caring, to arise with each new day, during a lonely and unhappy time.

SING TO ME

Give
me a reason
to live.

Smile at me softly.
Sing me a melody.
Touch your lips to mine.
Receive my song.
Condescend.

Give
me a reason
to live.

(I took the above photograph of a Milbert’s Tortoise Shell in September 2015 at Butterfly Lake in Utah’s High Uinta Mountains.)

Good-Bye Clementine

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Clementine returned, thankfully.  And Boris moved out (or was eaten), thankfully.  Though Clementine’s company had been, in some sense, comforting to me, our dissimilar natures dictated that our relationship was not to last.  Sealing our fate was the fact that, after living with Clementine for three months, I had to move out in favor of paying tenants.  Moving from this drab little apartment felt traumatic to me because I had become accustomed to my situation and surroundings.  And I had found a silky, spindly-legged companion.  Clementine showed no emotion when I left, but hung unmoving, as always, in her corner.  I walked out, shut the door, and surrendered my key, leaving Clementine behind.

GOOD-BYE CLEMENTINE

Good-bye, Clementine.
I have to leave:
paying tenants, naturally,
take precedence. No doubt:
they will disinfect your corners,
wipe away your suspending threads;
they will squash you without
thought, flush you out
with swirling sewage.

What? No. You cannot come
with me. This is where you belong,
while you belong anywhere.

(Incredibly, the above-pictured spider appeared in my bathroom, in a corner of the ceiling near the shower, in the midst of my posting these Clementine poems.)

Clementine: A Scare

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When I came home from work one evening, Clementine was nowhere to be found.  But Boris hung in a corner of the shower insert.  He looked smug, and I immediately suspected him of foul play.  Fear and anger mixed as I both worried about Clementine and jumped to the conclusion that Boris was responsible for her disappearance.  As I said earlier, I didn’t like him from the start, and had no reason to trust him.  But something caused me to withhold the hand (and toilet tissue) of judgment and wait awhile to see if Clementine’s absence was temporary, and if I had misjudged.

CLEMENTINE: A SCARE

Boris?
Boris.
What have you done
with Clementine?

Clementine Brings a Friend

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(Photo by Laura Baker)

One day I discovered that Clementine had brought a friend to my shower stall.  Slightly smaller but of the same species, he hung in a corner not farm from Clementine’s habitual hangout.  I called him Boris, partly because I didn’t like him.  The name Boris morphed on my tongue into “boorish.”  I felt unabashedly jealous of this usurper, this intruder upon what I had naively assumed was the exclusivity of my relationship with Clementine.  I wanted Boris gone, but needed to be polite for Clementine’s sake.  All this was tongue in cheek, of course, but made for fun imagining, and a poem, during a melancholy time.  Boris didn’t stay long.  Perhaps Clementine ate him.  That suited me.

CLEMENTINE BRINGS A FRIEND

So, Clementine—
you have brought a friend—
And you are . . .
Boris?
Bo’-ris.
(You’re rather small.)
Of course, you can
visit for awhile.
Is there anything I can get
you, Bo’-ris?
Curds and whey? Well,
I’ll certainly see what I can do.
Won’t you
make yourself comfortable,
Bo’ris?
(Um, Clementine . . . )

Clementine: Gone

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(Photo by Laura Baker)

My last poem Clementine: Return would have made more sense had I first posted the poem Clementine: Gone.  Oh, well: I goofed.  As I suggested in my last post, when Clementine disappeared, I felt an intensified loneliness.  My only companion was gone, who knew where.  I hoped she would return, even though I thought it unlikely.  Clementine’s departure felt permanent, and I could not trust in the possibility that she would return.  Now you may understand better the ebullient tone of the previous poem, welcoming her upon her return.

CLEMENTINE: GONE

Spindly-legged spider—
I cannot see
where you have gone;
the corners are empty
in every room.

Clementine: Return

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(photograph by Laura Baker)

Clementine would disappear for days, and then reappear in the same or a different corner.  I could not see any web against the whiteness of the shower insert, but I knew a web must be there, for Clementine didn’t walk on the wall but seemed to walk in air close to the wall.  I wondered what she ate, for she was slow, spun no web to catch insects, and there were no insects (that I could see) for her to catch.  When she left I felt her absence, like after you say good-bye to a friend who has come to visit.  Her return always brought a strange sense of relief.

CLEMENTINE: RETURN

Welcome, Clementine!
I am glad
for your visit!
How I have hoped
you were well.
And here you are,
looking well!
Can you stay
awhile?
You left without notice
(you know),
and equally came.
But I am glad
for your visit!
Please, stay
awhile.
I am needing to go
to town this morning,
though. You’ll wait here
till I return?
Oh, good.
So glad
for your visit!

Hello Clementine

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(photograph by Laura Baker)

Some years ago, during a very dark time in my life, I lived alone in a small apartment.  In the bathroom the wallpaper border was peeling from the old paint, and mildew grew on the ceiling.  My clothes sat in neat piles on the floor inside a big duffle bag.  Parts of my life had crumbled despite my best efforts to hold everything together.  The weeks and months dragged on as I laid staring at the ceiling night after night, wondering how I had come to be here and where I was going.  I felt utterly alone.  But during the early weeks I discovered a quiet companion in a corner of the shower: a spider.  My Charlotte to her Wilber.  I called her Clementine.  I could have casually killed her to avoid her silky creepiness, for I don’t care for spiders.  Instead, in my loneliness, I greeted Clementine fondly each morning and evening, and missed her when she disappeared for a day or two.

This and the next five poems I post will chronicle my brief relationship with Clementine.

HELLO CLEMENTINE

A spindly-legged spider
hovers upside-down
above me, in the corner—
I don’t know what she eats
in this tidy little shack;
it’s only the two of us—
she faces away, but
I know she is only pretending
to not watch me.
Part of me squeams
to squash her:
three squares of toilet tissue
would do. But,
she is quiet and harmless;
this is her shack, too.
And, it’s only the two of us.

(Unfortunately I never took a picture of the real Clementine.  My daughter, Laura, took this and subsequent spider photographs of garden spiders around our house.)

Where Does Love Go?

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So many people feel so lonely.  Even the most gregarious are not immune.  Even the most stoic of intellects must acknowledge that these feelings are real.  Hurt feelings, disappointments, resentments, traumas, betrayals, sarcasm, silence: they all push us apart to such distances that we wonder whether healing is possible.  Contemplating love and loneliness as I walked on Rabbit Lane years ago, I wrote this poem.  I have great hopes that people can find other people to love and be loved by, and thus heal the deep hurt of loneliness.  (Photo credit: Laura Baker.)

WHERE DOES LOVE GO?

Where does love go
after long years limp by?

Love burns and love binds
in the moment of beginning.
Love cleaves,
then tip-toes cautiously away,
leaving you wondering where it went,
and how it is that it ever was.

One day you saw love
slinking off
to hide behind so many hurts.
Another day you saw love
rushing and crashing
against rage’s rocky shore.
The last day you saw love
huddling, withdrawn,
under a dark, shrouding silence.

Why does love go
after long years grind past?
And what do you do
when it’s gone?