Remember...Forget?

'One remembers what hurt,' writes C. Milosz in his diary of the year 1987, A Year of the Hunter.

Milosz is pondering remembering and forgetting and the education of American students, who, it seems, have very short memories. 

A few weeks ago I was at an afternoon meeting of a group of local women writers, where a woman read us excerpts from her recently published book about the Holocaust. There was a lively discussion after. I remembered how French pupils are taught about the Holocaust and each year at about the age of 14 may make a visit to a Camp, the way British pupils of about the same age study World War 1, and--in the British school I was teaching in--go to visit the battlefields in the north of France. A day trip for us, from Paris.

But I also read once, in Le Monde, France's newspaper of reference, an article about a Jesuit in, I believe, Cambodia, who was trying to inculcate the idea of remembrance in Cambodians, and while they listened politely they also said that this was contrary to their own culture, which believed in forgetting, in, as we say, 'letting go, moving on.' 

'One remembers what hurt.' I brood over the hurtful things, the things I feel guilty about. I often wonder whether, the day we can turn our memories off and on, I won't choose to forget a lot of things that are still painful.

Future Perfect

I have just discovered a Carcanet blog post I wrote a while back, but didn't realise had been published a couple of weeks ago. It concerns the writing of a poem that is in my new collection, a poem called 'Future Perfect,' a poem that took--like lots of poems--several years to get right. As I explain, here.

Smoke

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For the past few days the sky has been white, orange-white, instead of the usual blue, and the air has begun to smell of smoke from the fires up north and perhaps also the fires south-east of here. Tomorrow morning we have planned to drive east to the Sierras between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, to visit an area my son has been talking about. But the air quality up there is very poor and it is unusually hot, so we may have to spend our time inside looking out at the creek. I'm packing books--not the worst thing in the world to do. Occasionally I think about getting caught in an inferno, but I tend to be an optimist, even about the weather, always finding it hard to believe that the weather wherever I'm going is any different from the weather here.

Two days in the Sierras, then off south to the desert east of Sierras down by Bishop where a friend is teaching at Deep Springs College for the summer. My husband wanted to teach there, a course over the summer of next year, and we're looking forward to seeing what it looks like, this very small, but notable college, where the students run the ranch and hire the professors.

Bugs

There aren't any, have you noticed? Well, the odd mosquito at dusk, especially if we leave the screen door open, and yes, there are some dead flies on the floor that I desultorily sweep up.

Oh, Rachel Carson, I think of you. When I was a kid and we went to a lake in northern Saskatchewan in the summers, where my aunt and her four boys had a cottage, they used to come around with DDT machines to spray the mosquitoes, and we thought it was great fun to run through the spray. It was like the ice cream man, we'd holler to all our friends and cousins and run in and out of the (DDT) sprinkler.

No bugs, no birds. In the south of France there are bugs, but no birds, from hunters. Tiny birds, gone. They taste good roasted over an open fire. And the orange berries on the pyrocantha (sp?) don't get eaten. Hunting is a privilege that French peasants (countrymen) gained via a revolution from the nobility, and they aren't going to give it up without a fight--or until all the birds (and now boars) are gone.

I remember once we had our good friends visiting from America, in Provence. We made a picnic and took it to one of our special spots, a place in the hills, with a fountain and water trickling, and in spring (this was in summer, though) a field of wild narcissus. But there were also bugs, and they weren't used to them, and we hadn't thought to bring repellent (citrus oil). Ooh la la!

Wednesday 4 pm

Work on poems and translations and a book review for PNR--a book about Apollinaire. I have written mostly about Apollinaire. I have another review waiting to be finished, waiting for the final copy of the book itself, so I can, if necessary, correction the quotations I've used from the advance copy.

My own poems--better not thought about too much. It's a pleasure to work on them, and feel I can still change, which is probably an illusion, but it still feels like a worthwhile way to spend my time--and it is the important time of the day. What I read the rest of the day feeds into that. My life feeds into it. 'You must change your life,' says Rilke in someone's translation, and though I'm not a big fan of Rilke, however much I admire his craft and intensity, he is right. You don't change the poetry without changing the life--minutely.

Warm and overcast. Muggy, sort of. Is it the fires up north and down south? I see people smoking in dry grass along our (dry) creek and want to scold them, but don't. Yesterday both the sun coming up and the sun going down had a ominous red tinge through clouds...fog...smoke?

We have a new gardner in our apartment building. The old one got fired, I think, after he suggested we should water more. He was, apparently, sinking into dementia and used to shout quite horribly at his assistant, a minority person. Hearing him, horrified, I'd go out on the balcony and tell him to pipe down, and then he was utterly, disarmingly apologetic. Perhaps the assistant just put it to dementia of some kind, the way the assistants in nursing homes must live with the horrors of scolding old age.

The new gardener has a battered red pickup, and he seemed to be spending his morning tinkering with the watering system.

And now off to Redwood City for a lecture on facts and fiction about sleep... . And maybe on the way home, I'll swing by Portola Valley and pick up some Graventstein apples they had yesterday in a bin out front of the market, when I was on my bike and couldn't take any.

It's Sunday morning, 10 a.m.

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and I am sitting on my bed (made), books spread around me, a tray with the last mug of tea from this morning's pot (tea is my husband's department, both the choosing of and the making of) and a dish of roasted almonds, ready to write: 1) another page from Hélène Cixous's wonderful new book  Défions l'augure, which Seagull Books will publish eventually, in English; and 2) some poems of my own for my next book, should I be so lucky as to have 'a next book.'

(But I have a title for it, after a story in the NYTimes, last week: 'How to Have Sex in a Canoe.')

It's cool, sunny, getting hotter...but when I read about the temperatures in Europe at the moment, I thank heavens for coastal Northern California's fog and cool overnight temperatures. My husband has gone biking with a friend. Yesterday the two of us rode up Alpine almost to 'The Green Gate,' a landmark for bikers at the top of Alpine, where the road has been closed for x years because there was a landslide. It doesn't go to Skyline Bd (the road along the ridge with the Pacific Ocean to the west and Silicon Valley and the SF Bay to the east) any more. It's the first time I've tried to ride up that far, and we had to turn around more because it was getting late, and dark, especially under the Redwoods. A beautiful road with almost no traffic, wild, steep hills on one side and a drop into a valley where a creek is still running (where does the water come from? It hasn't rained for a couple of months) on the other. Sublime.

Too late to stop at the Alpine Inn for a beer.

The Beekeepers

Carcanet has published 'The Beekeepers,' one of the poems from my new collection today. It is one of a group of poems set in the Luxembourg Garden in Paris's 6th arrondissement. I hope you enjoy it.

In addition to a book launch at Stanford/Palo Alto, California on 15 September, I will be reading from the new book on October 2nd at Waterstone's in Edinburgh, on October 17th at Broadway Books on Broadway Market, Hackney, London; at Blacks Club, 67 Dean Street, Soho, London; and in Edinburgh on 15th November. More details to follow!

Inventions...

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A car wash that fits in my shower.

A bathing cap that keeps my hair bone dry in the swimming pool.

A machine with human hands to massage my scalp.