Backyard Blue
"Backyard Blue" by Josette Urso


Dear Terry,

I dreamed about both of us last night. We were in California, and, although I've never seen her, your sister was with us. At times we were in the City, and at times we were walking in woods and wetlands by the ocean. At one point, a Sparrow landed in my hand. At one point it occurred to me that I might be dreaming, and I felt such regret that I virtually willed myself to feel the street that we were walking on, to actually smell the air. For an instant I was completely convinced that I was in San Francisco, merely contemplating being asleep in Minnesota. There were darker elements to this dream, as well. I shall not include them, in hopes that they are less prophetic, than indicative of my current mood.

California did me a lot of good: a return to the north coast forests and beaches of the holy ranters, from Jaime d'Angulo on up to the present - a return to true friends (how can this be I find myself thinking, surely when they knew me I was worse than I am now) - a return to an entire culture that takes its pleasures, oblivious to the frozen soul of a Minnesota that remains forever locked in its taciturn winter of judgment. For ten years I have been cloistered in a cloister. I tried to come back in (to stay, so to speak, put) and I don't know why I expected it to be any different from what I left, and I'll be paying for buying into this tedious illusion for the rest of my life...

My actual condition before visiting you: exhausted, sleepless and broke. After over eighteen months of an heroic level of scholarly production, while supporting myself in exile from a corrupt department, my scene was simultaneously fraying at the edges and collapsing at the center. Temporary work, to which I had turned, in desperation, in order to have enough time to at least permit me the hope of completing my work, was, at an average of about six dollars an hour, no longer even sustaining poverty - my cable off, the phone and electricity about to go - while my ever changing schedule (I often didn't know that I was working, until the morning of the day I was supposed to report) precluded sustained dissertation work. Each day piled up on the one before; a new, small, failure; and endless worry, occasionally interspersed with even more memorable pain. I had just turned 40. There was nothing left here but worry, rage, and grief. Believe me, there were more reasons that I was shaking when you saw me, than merely having gotten hit in the head.

In California I saw life, and unapologetic joy, even in the face of a grievously ill friend. I returned to Minnesota with absolutely no patience for this brittle, frigid town. At a party I saw little but lazy, spoiled children, mired in a cheap and easy complaint. Their "careers" are little more than the entitlement to continue a privileged adolescent crankiness. Their hollow bitterness now instituted as "seriousness," they perch upon the moral high-ground like a toilet seat. Their style is empty condescension, and they live upon the energy of others.

As I write this I am sitting in a cafe, watching a cold October rain melt the greens and golds and rusts of the oaks and willows. Geese rest on the pond across the street, Chopin's Nocturnes and Beethoven's piano sonatas alternate in the background (someone got the mood right), and I have just finished a late breakfast. At least I live in a true city, with vines and broken bricks, alleys and secret spaces. My trip to the coast was the best and most important 40th birthday gift that I could have given myself; it provided the first instances of pure unadulterated joy that I have experienced in far too many years. There is too much that I had (almost) forgotten in this remote northern gloom. I know now that I must leave here, regardless of the direction that my work takes, and I have begun structuring a situation that should permit this, within a year. I also know that you are often frustrated with the arduous, lapidary process of your work; it takes its own time, as we seem to stare out from its space, sometimes for weeks (months). Still, over years something else emerges: There is so much from which you have freed yourself. You live in beauty. You continue to work, and extract from that work the conditions for its continuance; it both materially supports you, and frustrates you with that distracting demand. Yet that very frustration signifies your desire to work, and that desire is the true resource and the true motor. In our own lost labyrinthian ways (and here I think of the certainties of even our "skeptical" century: Marx, Freud, Rock and Roll-while our only certainty is, finally, that we live without) we have nurtured a desirous wondering, always allowing our (im)possibility; that (which) is far more than enough.

So much more than beautiful that my heart opens in the cut/cutting real; the arcing hawk's wing of blue morning.

I am actively planning to see you again, either in the desert here, or in Barcelona. Till then, I shall (as always) try to write more frequently. (I do so rarely, for I am so rarely at my best, and that is all that I would write to you. What else? Politenesses?).



Marc Penka 2002

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