From the Archives

Sat down to read “Fra Lippo Lippi” again

And by my chin-hairs understood this time

That God is in the details, Lippo says,

In every face and body part of life.

If soul’s not there, it isn’t anywhere,

And Lippo is a liar— have his head;

A painter is supposed to all portray

In order truth to daub, to underscore,

Discover Form from form, by piecing patch

Together on the canvas Jesus’ plan—

Immanuel alive in all to see:

That everything that lives is holy Trinity.

Janet

Eleven ten.

A lot of thoughts crowd together in my brain. I rummaged through a box of books and picked out The Essential Browning. I can remember where I got it: I was with my dad at the Gateway Mall, and I believe it was the winter of 1995. I miss my parents sometimes.

One fifty five. I was feeling sick as a dog, so I crashed into bed for two hours. I’m not going to play the bass today… The events of my life before 1997 are a confused blur, perhaps because I didn’t write things down regularly. It shocked me to realize that Robert Browning had total faith in the afterlife. Gradually I learned that a lot of people do. I don’t know whether this belief is simple or complex. At the beginning of March 2020 I went with Karen to Darlene’s funeral and observed the service like an outsider. The daughter gave me a hug but never looked in my eyes or spoke to me. Our paths had diverged since grade school. I feel partly guilty for the track I was on, yet it was out of my hands while we were run through the chute. But today I’m aware that I should have been kinder and friendlier to her rather than awkward and embarrassed when we met each other in her workplaces. As it happened, life took a huge crap on me, which might suggest a kind of retribution for being socially insensitive. Maybe by the same token we can hope to be rewarded for our kindnesses. 

Pippa / Panacea

Eight o’clock.

I was feeling desultory on my way to the market a while ago, and undecided on what stuff to get. I took my time, debating this or that purchase, finally choosing some tortilla chips and fresh pico salsa for a treat. I don’t know if I deserve to reward myself, but life has been unusually hard for the past month or so, and there seems to be no explanation for it. People give each other hell when they could just as easily love each other and forgive. Even when we have the power to build heaven on earth, we choose the alternative out of short sighted greed, lust, or some unreasoning hate for one another. I guess that’s excuse enough for me to enjoy my Doritos and salsa in peace. Now I consider a powerful poet like Robert Browning. It’s the kind of day to take a look at Pippa Passes and ponder why the girl is so happy, and meanwhile others are plotting a murder… I hope I get a call from Heidi this afternoon. An hour ago I observed the female sparrow feeding her young in that old birdhouse. The mother carries on the ritual of life just as if she had hope within her heart. Then what is it that makes human life so difficult? Maybe I’m simply melancholy like Hamlet. Why carry the weight of the world on my shoulders?

Nine o’clock. I dreamed this morning that it was my brother who stole my identity, but in reality it’s unlikely. Whoever it was, dishonesty sucks. I slept so soundly that I didn’t hear the sprinklers turn on at six o’clock. The band agreed to have a rehearsal this Sunday at four o’clock, and I’m happy about it. This may be the creative catharsis I’ve needed for over two weeks. There’s no other panacea like music. It would be really cool if we made a few good recordings this time. I think I’ll suggest it to the guys. 

Moonstruck

Quarter after eight. Just thought I would look in my heart and write. S— wrote of a full moon in summer that she could not see but could feel, one that woke her from a sound sleep at 5:07am. The time of my “Honeymoon” post was 5:08am— Pacific time, but still rather curious. I rummaged among my boxed books and found Hardy’s Jude the Obscure and compared it with the second copy I had. The first one was published prior to the takeover by Penguin Random House, hence worth more to a collector. Then I googled the Sidney sonnet regarding looking in your heart and writing… and found it appropriate to what was on my mind. I mean to ask S— if she’s ever thought about someday getting married. The question is harmless enough. Noncommittal on both sides… I think it was Balzac who carried on a written correspondence with a woman for 15 years before finally proposing to her. And most people know the famous true story of Robert Browning’s elopement with Elizabeth Barrett. He fell in love with her through her poetry… I must be dodgy from the moon, but it feels all right, and I’m going with it.

Mardi Gris

Seven o’clock. The night was very long, and still the morning is black as ink outside. I was a fool to experiment with caffeine over the past month. Play with fire and you will get burned. Do we learn from the burning? It started with thinking a Coke would be a nice treat, but it mushroomed into a daily habit until one night I was short of breath. This scared me. Fortunately now I’m back to normal, yet I don’t have much energy. Alcohol was so unhealthy for me, but I did it for the pleasure of being high. It had to nearly kill me before I would quit drinking. Is there a better way to live than by pleasure and pain? Reward and punishment? It seems to me that any religion offers to remove the pain of life, so that Buddhism and Epicureanism have something in common. Christianity promises treasures in heaven in return for self denial in this life. My attitude when I drank was that I’d already found heaven here on earth, so why give it up? I didn’t yet believe that alcoholism could be fatal. As for deferring satisfaction to the afterlife, I don’t know the answer. There are other pleasures on earth, not quite as good as alcohol. Music can be one of them. Writing is another thing I do for pleasure and for truth. The search for truth is a pleasure for me, perhaps in a masochistic way; I’m not sure. Is there solace in knowledge and wisdom? For me, ignorance is not bliss. Robert Browning wrote that the two main human functions are to love and to know… It’s another gray morning, the sun compromised by cloud cover. I feel like crawling back into bed.

Pollyanna

Everything is peachy once again

As Pippa passes saying all is right

And God is in his heaven furthermore.

You know, I had a dream that Pollyanna

Could not go on the set today because

Her Pangloss had deserted for a day;

Still enter Pippa chiming well a day,

Skipping down the path just out of sight

Past lovers plotting treachery and coups.

The sun today is shining not so fierce,

Reprieve much needed for belabored brains;

Oppressive heat relents releasing joy

As Pollyanna’s optimism turns

About and Pippa’s God’s in heaven again.

Before Church

Sat down to read “Fra Lippo Lippi” again

And by my chin-hairs understood this time

That God is in the details, Lippo says,

In every face and body part of life.

If soul’s not there, it isn’t anywhere,

And Lippo is a liar— have his head;

A painter is supposed to all portray

In order truth to daub, to underscore,

Discover Form from form, by piecing patch

Together on the canvas Jesus’ plan—

Immanuel alive in all to see:

That everything that lives is holy Trinity.

Robert Browning, continued

One thirty 🕜. Well church is done. I was just reading 📖 The Ring and the Book. Very difficult going, but it looks like the poem just fleshes out the story suggested by the legal documents concerning the murder of Pompilia. Now it is said that she was a foundling, not of noble birth at all. For this reason, there would be no dowry for Guido. I’m confused though, because I think Pompilia bore a daughter of her own, whose father was the young priest (not Guido). This was partly why Guido and his thugs murdered her. She was guilty of adultery. But the truth Browning wants to get at is whether or not Pompilia deserved death, and additionally did Guido?

What amazes me about the long poem is how it prefigures certain kinds of murder mysteries and their preoccupation with the nature of truth. There was a Dream Theater CD all about such a plot and theme. I doubt if the band ever read Browning, yet the idea was airborne from 1868 till contemporary times. Longer than that, for the square yellow book he found in a book stall was published in the late 1600s. Robert Browning set himself the task of illuminating the truth of the murder case and maybe the truth of truth itself. He made an issue of the nature of truth in The Ring and the Book, perhaps setting a precedent for poets and all writers. Book II is related by the voice of the man in the street. His language is very thorny in places, not reader friendly at all, but the obscurity might be for a point. It seems that Browning’s exploration indicates how complex the truth really is. Reality is never simple, and it is always relative, always different from viewpoint to viewpoint. I won’t say plural until I’ve finished the book. But he is saying that the truth depends on stories, on yarn spinning from person to person. William Faulkner picked up the same technique of having different characters tell the story along the way. As I Lay Dying is a good example of that… It may be a long time before I’m done reading this monster. Still I might come away enlightened.