Friday, July 29, 2011

Hard Edges Softened by Joy

A beautiful photoessay about children at play in my beloved city.  My favorite slide is number 11.

Poetry Friday: Recollection

This poem is about my old parish church in New York, the Shrine of Saint Frances Cabrini, which is housed in the same building as a girls' high school founded by the saint and still run by her order, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. The saint's body is preserved in a glass coffin beneath the altar.  The poem is excerpted from "Cycle for Mother Cabrini."

I found your bones that lay
Of the highschool hallway
And drummed them with my need;
They rang and rose and hurried

Me.  I bought and set
Your picture in my wallet
And chose a cheap ring,
A piece of junk but something

Your sisters sell; to me
Its feel and pull heavy
On my fingerbone wore
In for a time, the terror

Of your delicate flesh, the scant
Weight within the fragrant
Bones that it seemed turned
To me as to the bright and the unburned.

-- John Logan

More Poetry Friday at Book Aunt.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

To Everything

This made the hair on my arms stand on end when I heard it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Conversion of Al Levine

My parents did not subscribe to The New Yorker when I was growing up, but one day, when I was a girl, a neighbor who was moving gave us a box of back issues.  As a child who today would probably be diagnosed as hyperlexic (I could read at three, started writing stories at five and poetry at six or seven, and generally read everything I could get my hands on), I was thrilled when this trove of magazines densely packed with words came my way, and commandeered them immediately.

It took me a long time to read through all the issues in the box. I focused mainly on the cartoons and the poetry (still the first things I read when I happen upon a New Yorker, to which I still don't subscribe).  In an old issue from 1972, I came across a poem that delighted me so much that I carefully cut it out and kept it in the desk, complete with working drawers, that I had made out of a large cardboard box.  I no longer have the clipping, but I always remembered a few words of the poem, and especially the way it made me feel -- as if a door were being opened onto a strange, enchanted realm whose creatures had been named by a wildly inventive and rather droll Adam.  The poem was an abedecarium of sorts, with descriptions of a different imaginary person or place for each letter of the alphabet.

Earlier this year, a friend gave me access to her digital New Yorker subscription, under the terms of which you can search the archives of the magazine dating back to its inception.  I did not know the name of my childhood poem, nor that of the poet, but I remembered a few distinctive words, and, after a few false tries, found it pretty readily.  The poem, "An Alphabet," by Al Levine, begins:

100 Etudes
Beginning with Ah
The syllable of the caves
Wind blowing Aeolus
Actor of weights and seasons
Feather spring and sharp bony February

Beginner and Ender
Clown and ass-tail of a duck
Pom-pom and bunny button
Red spot and nose bulb

Crier and creature
Of August Ravines
Sweaty, heavy and murderous
Grief-ripe and wicked . . . .

The atmosphere created by the poem and the feelings it invoked were much as I had remembered, and it was a delight to find it at last.

Naturally, having found it and having identified its author, I wanted to know more about Al Levine and what else he might have written.  Was he still alive?  Was he teaching somewhere?  "An Alphabet," as it turned out, appeared in Levine's only book, Prophecy in Bridgeport and Other Poems, published by Scribner's in 1972, which I was able to find used.  But after its publication, he appears to have written no more.  Al Levine, born, as the dust jacket laconically states, in New York City in 1939, published no other poetry, neither in books nor in journals.  The poet Al Levine is found on no English department faculty lists.  Nor could I find an obituary for a poet named Al Levine born in New York City in 1939.  It is almost as if, after 1972, he simply vanished.  I asked my friend Rodak, a poet himself and a thoughtful reader, to help me.  Then, as often happens with research, a possibly-related tidbit was slipped my way from an unexpected source: my friend Ex-New Yorker, who sometimes comments on this blog, mentioned that the Catholic poet Pavel Chichikov, with whom she once took part on a Catholic listserv, had mentioned in that forum that his original name was Al Levine.

Okay, but could Pavel Chichikov be that Al Levine?  There must have been hundreds, if not thousands, of baby boys named Al Levine born in New York City in 1939.  The fact that both Chichikov and Levine were poets was not strong enough evidence, and Rodak's close reading of their work did not really strengthen it; the styles of the two men -- Chichikov's, which tends toward the formal, and Levine's, which is generally free, plain, and linguistically simple -- though they share certain aspects, are not similar enough to rest a case upon.  Nonetheless, Chichikov's freer poems have something of Levine's directness, and Levine's work makes frequent reference to the sacred and the mythological, though not (yet?) from the perspective of a believer.

The question remains: are the poet Pavel Chichikov and the poet Al Levine the same man?  One may fairly assume a Catholic once called Al Levine to be a convert.  And conversion itself is not unlike a death, insofar as it is a dying to the old self and all that it once embraced.  As the historian of conversion Karl F. Morrison has written:

Conversion is often portrayed as a positive event, a turning toward. It also has a negative aspect, a turning away. The event of formal adhesion [to the new faith] may consist of this flight toward the future and from the past. . . . The event may produce a transformation; but something resistant to change informs understanding it, and retention of the old may indeed have been a condition without which there could have been no change.

And the drama critic Richard Gilman, a Jewish atheist who in the 1950s converted to and then left the Catholic Church, writes in his memoir Faith, Sex, Mystery:

I’ve more than once thought of my conversion as a kind of illness, if health is to be defined as prowess and delight exclusively within the material, or simply human, social world. And I’ve thought of it as a kind of death, too, a preparation for the “real” one.  One dies to life, previous life; one lives then in a new way.

So, perhaps, the poet Al Levine "died" without dying, through being converted to Catholicism, which would explain the absence of an obituary.

I wrote to Pavel Chichikov twice to ask him if he might be the poet of Prophecy in Bridgeport, and to tell him that I wanted to write something about this possible connection.  He never responded.

As someone who knows what dying to the old self is like, and who, like Pavel Chichikov, prefers to write pseudonymously, I am going out on a limb to suggest, in the absence of proof, that they are the same man.

(Above:  portrait of Al Levine from the dust jacket of Prophecy in Bridgeport.)

Friday, July 22, 2011


As we wait and wait to adopt little Jude (our application is currently under review by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, and I got a letter from them yesterday which said that our social worker at Catholic Charites had forgotten to sign our home study, and could I please send another, signed copy), I have been thinking a lot about what it might be like for him to leave behind everything that he's ever known to join our family.  I have been considering the grief this rupture will engender in him, and how he won't be able to explain that grief to us in words.  And I think about all the other children who he will leave behind; do they grieve, too, for their companions of the orphanage?  And do the orphanage workers who care for the little ones grieve to see them go?

I think about the unimaginable Middle Passage, and the millions of Africans who perished on the journey to new, unsought-for lives as slaves in the Americas, lives that were foisted on them by force.  Does the sense of that sundering, that rupture, live on in subsequent generations?  Is there a shadowy cultural memory of a trauma shared by millions that resonates in the blood and the bones, that cannot be shaken or denied?

In a small and very different way, the break with the past, the rupture from all that is known and loved (even if to love it was a compromised kind of love), is an ethos familiar to me from long experience.  Does Jude love his friends, his caretakers, his orphanage?  They are family and homeland to him.  Will he have a better life in America with a family who will love him (and perhaps, in some small, particular way, with a mother who knows a little about rupture and grief), with people who can give him opportunities to form secure attachments and to learn how to trust?  Objectively speaking, yes, of course.  As for me, I have a better life now than I had when I was bereft, lonely, and overwhelmed by sin, but this doesn't mean that I don't sometimes grieve the provisional home, family, and friends I have left behind -- a leave-taking that is inseparable from my conversion.

My father often notes that life is loss, and, well, it is.  Real love is inextricably bound up with the painful losses and diminishments of every day.  I hope, in spite of all that little Jude will lose in joining our family, that, like me (and even if, like me, he is unable to forget), he will gain much more.

Poetry Friday: 227 Waverly Place

[The hospital Merwin refers to is the now-closed St. Vincent's. which became famous in the 1980s and 1990s for providing pioneering research and treatment and providing compassionate care in the AIDS/HIV epidemic.]


When I have left I imagine they will
repair the window onto the fire escape
that looks north up the avenue clear
to Columbus Circle long I have known
the lights of that valley at every hour
through that unwashed pane and have watched with no
conclusion its river flowing toward me
straight from the featureless distance coming
closer darkening swelling growing distinct
speeding up as it passed below me toward
the tunnel all that time through all that time
taking itself through its sound which became
part of my own before long the unrolling
rumble the iron solos and the sirens
all subsiding in the small hours to voices
echoing from the sidewalks a rustling
in the rushes along banks and the loose
glass vibrated like a remembering bee
as the north wind slipped under the winter sill
at the small table by the window until
my right arm ached and stiffened and I pushed
the chair back against the bed and got up
and went out into the other room that was
filled with the east sky and the day replayed
from the windows and roofs of the Village
the room where friends came and we sat talking
and where we ate and lived together while
the blue paint flurried down from the ceiling
and we listened late with lights out to music
hearing the intercom from the hospital
across the avenue through the Mozart
Dr. Kaplan wanted on the tenth floor
while reflected lights flowed backward on the walls.

-- W.S. Merwin, from Migration: New and Selected Poems. © Copper Canyon Press, 2005.

Above:  Greenwich Village, 1950

More Poetry Friday at The Opposite of Indifference.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"Brothers, love is a teacher, but a hard one to obtain . . ."

Gerard Nadal, bioethicist and father of an autistic son, asks:

[Why] so many autistic children?

I believe that in His infinite Love and Mercy God is permitting this . . .  as a means of rescuing us from ourselves. 

. . . . Autistic children are Love’s answer to our designer approach for offspring, especially as there are no clear genetic markers or physical attributes to pick up in pre-natal testing. We are being given one last chance as a civilization to get it right, to learn the meaning of sacrificial love through a condition that strikes at the very heart of social communication, to walk ourselves back from the precipice of the abyss of narcissistic annihilation. We are being given the chance to learn the true meaning of human dignity and marital love, a love that creates new life and is large enough to swallow any imperfection that comes with that new life.

Such capacity results from . . .  having allowed ourselves to be the recipients of God the Father’s healing love. If we haven’t, we must begin there . . . . This may be our last chance.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Poetry Friday: Bedtime Story for My Son

Where did the voice come from? I hunted through the rooms
For that small boy, that high, that head-voice,
The clatter as his heels caught on the door,
A shadow just caught moving through the door
Something like a school-satchel.  My wife
Didn't seem afraid, even when it called for food.
She smiled and turned her book and said:
"I couldn't go and love the empty air."

We went to bed. Our dreams seemed full
Of boys in one or another guise, the paper-boy
Skidding along in grubby jeans, a music-lesson
She went out in the early afternoon to fetch a child from.
I pulled up from a pillow damp with heat
And saw her kissing hers, her legs were folded
Far away from mine.  A pillow! It seemed
She couldn't love the empty air.

Perhaps, we thought, a child had come to grief
In some room in the old house we kept,
And listened if the noises came from some special room,
And then we'd take the boards up and discover
A pile of dusty bones like charcoal twigs and give
The tiny-sounding ghost a proper resting-place
So that it need not wander in the empty air.

No blood-stained attic harboured the floating sounds,
We found they came in rooms that we'd warmed with our life.
We traced the voice and found where it mostly came
From just underneath both our skins, and not only
In the night-time either, but at the height of noon
And when we sat at meals alone.  Plainly, this is how we found
That love pines loudly to go out to where
It need not spend itself on fancy and the empty air.

-- Peter Redgrove

More Poetry Friday at A Year of Reading.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Repost: The Work of Beauty

[Originally posted July 31, 2009]

Today is the birthday of two people who have been very dear to me. One, who lives far away now, I see only rarely; the other I will probably never see again. Both were accomplished artists who strove to dive deep and seek out what was untapped and overlooked in their disciplines, and one in particular rose to a relatively high level of recognition, but both, worn down by poor remuneration and family exigency, eventually attrited out of their fields.

As much as there is real resentment among the upstanding towards those who have spent themselves in riotous living, there is also, as I've learned since beginning this blog almost exactly two years ago, resentment of those who have shunned duty and spent their days seeking out the greenest green, the purest sound, the truest word -- especially when the fruits of their efforts, no matter how beautiful, do not produce much in the way of cold, hard cash. Commenters on this blog have suggested that financial reward is the surest gauge of artistic ability, when anyone who's spent any time at all among artists knows that money earned is generally a random and inaccurate measure of the quality of the work.

Lately I've been reminded of the poem "In the Desert" by Stephen Crane:

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter-bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart."

There seems to be an inordinate amount of self-perpetuating bitterness in our culture at present, and I've been disappointed to see many Catholic blogs serving it up. This blog, on the other hand, proposes that the work of seeking to uncover and propagate beauty is valuable work, even if it is not well-paid work, and even if it ends in total failure. Those who doubt this is a worthy proposition should read Michael D. O'Brien's compelling novel about the sufferings of a Native Canadian artist, A Cry of Stone. Or, if pressed for time, they could just read Frederick by Leo Lionni, in which the eponymous field mouse is chided by his community for appearing to daydream while they are gathering food for the winter. When winter comes, however, and the food supplies run low and everyone is feeling a bit . . . bitter, Frederick steps forth and tells them of the colors of the meadow (he had been "gathering" them while the others worked), describes the warmth of the sun so that it seems to the other mice that they can almost feel it, and recites a poem that helps them connect to a deeper sense of their shared field-mouse humanity.

This is the work of artists, whether known or unknown, whether successful by the measures of our materialistic society or not. It is sad to see those who should be seeking and advancing the beauty of God scorn the efforts of artists across disciplines to make His beauty more obvious and relevant to their fellows, when beauty itself is proof of His goodness.

Happiest of birthdays, M. and M. I wish you beauty.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Real Men

[UPDATE 7/31/11:  It has come to my attention that this post has angered some men who identify as Traditionalist, or who may be sympathetic to Traditionalism.  Readers who are new here should know that in this post, and on this blog in general, I speak solely of my own experience.  I mean no harm to anyone, Trad or otherwise, and my intention with this post was certainly not to sow further division among Catholic men and women, but to acknowledge that we are all deeply wounded, and to pray for the healing of all, both as individuals and as members of the Mystical Body.]

When, after a lackadaisical childhood catechesis, years spent doing my own thing, and a dramatic conversion experience, I came back to the Catholic Church in 2002, I found that there was a New York City subculture I had never known existed: the subculture of young orthodox and Traditionalist Catholics.  Many of this subculture’s adherents were actively looking for a mate, and I dated a few of them, which was an experience unlike anything I was familiar with from my own long romantic struggles. 

Many of the men in this subculture were what I can only call essentially wounded in their masculinity.  It was as if their self-identification as men had been haphazardly constructed out of subersive images of masculinity refracted to them from the culture; as if, finding certain norms of masculinity repellent (not without reason, it must be said), and not having had male role models to demonstrate for them any ontological qualities of manhood, these young men had skirted around the edges of male behavior, and had finished by taking affect for essence.  Their own masculinity seemed to have been forged in opposition and negation, cobbled together out of strong, oppositional attitudes to what repelled them culturally, rather than out of any positive attitudes, such as the wish to take on essential male roles -- engaging, for instance, in meaningful ways in the existential struggle to fight real enemies, and providing for and protecting the vulnerable, including women and children.  In addition, some of these men seemed to have self-consciously adopted certain styles, tastes, hobbies, and mannerisms associated with other times and places than twenty-first-century New York, identifying themselves more with, say, Europe before World War I, or fin-de-siècle Paris, or the New York of the Gilded Age.  One man from this set whom I dated asked me seriously once whether I considered myself American (he didn’t, in spite of the fact that, like me, he was).

I do not mean to suggest that these men were homosexual.  As far as their actual sexual problems and proclivities went, I did not get close enough to any of them to be able to speak with any authority.  However, I began to believe that the one I got closest to had a problem with pornography based on one or two little hints he let drop, and also on the fact that, after we’d decided to be “just friends” and I got engaged to someone else, he emailed me some disturbing soft-porn images of an Eastern European dominatrix whom, he said, I resembled.  This man was employed in a field related to Catholic apologetics, and I'm not saying that to be a successful, or even a sincere, apologist, one must be free of dark sexual neuroses and addictions.  Only God knows what is in the hearts of any of us, including, as we have seen lately in the case of the disgraced Fr. Corapi, in the heart of the priest who is saying Mass, and in the hearts of those who appear to be the most holy.  Only God knows what snares they must outrun each and every day of their lives in order to escape falling into the hells that are peculiarly painful and horrible and familiar just to them.  But I am saying that the combination of qualities that I saw in this man -- a shrinking from true, essential masculinity, a way of being a man that in fact seemed gerry-built upon opposition to cultural standards of masculinity, a self-professed orthodox Catholicism veering towards Traditionalism, and some deep-seated sexual problems -- struck me as disturbingly emblematic of a certain kind of orthodox Catholic man.

In other parts of  what someone has called "Catholic Blogistan,"  the “sola skirtura” debate rages on.  This debate couldn’t be more preposterous, or a less compelling use of mental energy, to me personally, but my background is different from that of most of the people who frequent these particular Catholic areas of the interwebs. For some of the skirts-only enthusiasts, it's ostensibly a question of femininity.  For others, it's a question of women in pants committing some kind of sin against God and man by allowing the outline of their lower body to be seen, rather than inferred.  While these arguments are not interesting to me, however, the evidently torrid atmosphere from which they arise is.  I can't help but thinking that men who get hot and bothered about whether women wear pants are coming from a place that I can only call sexually troubled, and it reminds me of the sexual woundedness I encountered in the men of the orthodox Catholic subculture into which I ventured after my reversion.

I do not mean to suggest that I am not sexually wounded myself.  I am.  And, as I mentioned earlier, neither am I suggesting that sexually-wounded men cannot be effective apologists.  They can.  It is when they write or speak out of a poorly-hidden crisis in their own masculinity, which I believe is a reflection of a cultural crisis of essential masculinity, that I get worried for women.  Some orthodox Catholic men, on the one hand, appear to be trying to regain an impossible Edenic ideal of manhood and fatherhood that they may never have seen or experienced in their own lives.  Others, though perhaps unconsciously, appear to do everything possible to avoid the self-sacrifice called for in marriage and fatherhood by attempting to disassociate themselves from any accepted cultural norms of masculinity, and, in so doing, fail to present themselves to eligible women as viable potential husbands and fathers.

The same man who sent me the dominatrix pictures before my marriage confided in me his great fear -- a phobia, really -- of one day having a child with Down syndrome.  His revulsion for children with Down syndrome was so unusual that I wondered if it was, like his apparent attraction to S&M pornography, another part of his wounded masculinity, as if being unable to love the obviously disabled were somehow connected to preferring exaggerated images of unbalanced sexual power to the vulnerability (and, one could say, the shame) of a sexual relationship between normal, fallen, imperfect, broken husbands and wives.  (It has occurred to me that, as much as I may or may not resemble an Eastern European dominatrix, he would have been terribly disappointed and unhappy being married to me.  And if we had been married, and had happened to have disabled children, as I do with the man whom I did marry, I doubt he would have stuck around too long).

I have no answers to the problems of wounded masculinity and femininity in the Church.  We are all essentially broken, after all.  Nonetheless, when one of us is wounded in this fundamental way, and acts out of his woundedness, and does damage to others as a result of it, the entire Mystical Body of Christ suffers.  I hope and pray that priests and laypeople may work together to heal the wounded -- i.e., our brothers and sisters and ourselves -- which I think would go a long way towards healing relationships between Catholic men and women.

Monday, July 4, 2011

"This is what you shall do"

This is the day 156 years ago that Walt Whitman self-published his first edition of Leaves of Grass.  It began with a preface that would be left out of future editions, which read in part: 

The land and sea, the animals, fishes, and birds, the sky of heaven and the orbs, the forests, mountains, and rivers, are not small themes … but folks expect of the poet to indicate more than [their] beauty and dignity [. . . ] … they expect him to indicate the path between reality and their souls. Men and women perceive the beauty well enough … [. . . ] The passionate tenacity of hunters, woodmen, early risers, cultivators of gardens and orchards and fields, the love of healthy women for the manly form, seafaring persons, drivers of horses, the passion for light and the open air, all is an old varied sign of the unfailing perception of beauty and of a residence of the poetic in outdoor people [. . . ] The poetic quality is not marshalled in rhyme or uniformity or abstract addresses to things nor in melancholy complaints or good precepts, but is the life of these and much else and is in the soul [. . . ] This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families . . .

For more, go here.

(H/T: The Writer's Almanac)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Five Hundred Miles

This song has been on my mind.  It seems to me such an essentially American song: simple, strophic, tuneful, and mournful, sharing its themes -- of a trip taken far from home, of loneliness, of a kind of exile imposed in equal measures by the exigencies of circumstance, and by those arising from personal shame and pride -- with other great American songs (like "Poor Wayfaring Stranger," for instance, or Woody Guthrie's "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad").  It's supposed to have been written by Hedy West, a singer on the Greenwich Village folk scene in the late 1950s-early 1960s, who based it on songs sung by her Appalachian grandmother, and wrote it from the point of view of a railroader.

 My friend Rodak has recently made me a Peter, Paul, and Mary convert (which didn't take much), and here is their almost-heartbreaking version of the song:  

Here is Joan Baez's winningly ingenuous version.

And perhaps my favorite, by the Australian group The Seekers, which sounds slick in comparison to the simplicity of the others, but whose beauty can't be denied.

Happy Fourth of July to all my American readers.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Music and Memory, Part 23: Auf dem Strom

Warning: if you dislike reading about poop, venture no further.

My son, whom his preschool teachers call "brilliant," scores in the mentally-retarded range on IQ tests because of his near-total non-compliance.  He can memorize a book or a song after a first hearing, but our daily violin practice sessions are fraught by my continual redirection of his efforts, and by my own efforts to quell my frustration at his insistence on "playing it my way."  I picture myself jumping to my feet and shouting, "This is MUSIC, dammit! This is only the single most important thing in the created world!" but I manage to restrain myself, because he's five years old.  (I was going to write, "because he's five years old and has special needs," but his ability to comprehend the importance of music is not one of them.)

Yesterday we were having one of our frequent bathroom struggles, in which he refuses to poop, swears he doesn't have to, flings himself to the floor and lashes out, screams and cries, has to be physically transported to the toilet, and then sits meekly and finishes his business.  The process is generally quite demoralizing to me. Yesterday, after having plunked him down on the toilet, I went into the other room to catch up on some ironing, and thought maybe I could snatch a few minutes to practice before he needed me to help him wipe.  The motion of the body in ironing, it seemed to me, would pose no obstacle, and might perhaps even by an aid, to working on certain vocal technical issues.  Singing, after all, is a physiological process that involves the fluid motion of the entire body, usually enacted in subtle movements which audiences do not see.

As I stood ironing and singing, however, my focus was interrupted by other concerns. I thought of a poem I'd read in college by Tess Gallagher:

I Stop Writing the Poem

to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I'm still a woman.
I'll always have plenty to do.
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I'll get back
to the poem. I'll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there's a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it's done.

And, for some reason, a totally unrelated piece by Schubert came rushing into my head, a piece I've never sung because it's for tenor or high soprano, the little chamber scena "Auf dem Strom" (On the River).  (I do not have time to write my own translation, so I am copying someone else's of the poem by Ludwig Rellstab.)

 Take the last parting kiss,
 and the wavy greeting
 that I'm still sending ashore
 before you turn your feet and leave!
 Already the waves of the stream
 are pulling briskly at my boat,
 yet my tear-dimmed gaze
 keeps being tugged back by longing!

 And so the waves bear me forward
 with unsympathetic speed.
 Ah, the fields have already disappeared
 where I once discovered her!
 Blissful days, you are eternally past!
 Hopelessly my lament echoes
 around my fair homeland,
 where I found her love.

 See how the shore dashes past;
 yet how drawn I am to cross:
 I'm pulled by unnameable bonds
 to land there by that little hut
 and to linger there beneath the foliage;
 but the waves of the river
 hurry me onward without rest,
 leading me out to the sea!

 Ah, before that dark wasteland
 far from every smiling coast,
 where no island can be seen -
 oh how I'm gripped with trembling horror!
 Gently bringing tears of grief,
 songs from the shore can no longer reach me;
 only a storm, blowing coldly from there,
 can cross the grey, heaving sea!

 If my longing eyes, surveying the shore,
 can no longer glimpse it,
 then I will gaze upward to the stars
 into that sacred distance!
 Ah, beneath their placid light
 I once called her mine;
 there perhaps, o comforting future!
 there perhaps I shall meet her gaze.

I recalled how, in the 1990s, my teacher A.B. had had a famous coloratura soprano in his studio.  She lived in California and flew to New York for her lessons, and my knees would invariably turn to jelly and I would inevitably choke up when, having the lesson time after mine, she would open the studio door while I was working.  One day, A.B. remarked to me that she was performing "Auf dem Strom" in a famous summer music festival.  "Oh, I love that piece!" I gushed.  He laughed me off, explaining that it was dreck.

Oh no, it was not dreck.  How could A.B. and his prominent pupil gang up on "Auf dem Strom" like that -- on the gently-resigned opening melody in the french horn, drifting down, as it were, from a distant rise on the other side of the river as the speaker's small boat is already picking up speed in the current and bearing him away; on those lovely, arching vocal phrases, so full of longing and loss, but also of hope?  No, the piece was beautiful, was true, even. It was, quite possibly, even healing.

Yesterday, as I stood there ironing and waiting for my son to finish in the bathroom, I realized that I hadn't heard it or thought of it in years, but the delicate phrase, repeated in the coda, "Ach, bei ihren milden Scheine/Nannt' ich sie zuerst die Meine" (Ah, beneath [the stars'] placid light, I once called her mine) flooded into the ear of my memory, and I thought that perhaps  I too, one day, might be able to greet music once again as an old friend, might even be able to take hold of her as a balm for the healing of myself and others.