Tuesday, October 13, 2015



I always thought it would be him
my great love my cruel one
he with a luminous mind
body of a wingless dragonfly

rounded at the edges but I thought
dying would improve him
he’d be the radiant spirit
waiting for me on the other side

with his inaudible stutter
his invisible scars
growing up in the mean streets
small weak lying to survive

but I thought that improved by dying
he’d take me by the hand
and we’d walk forever across
the black velvet of infinity

I thought like Dante and Beatrice
we’d stand on a ring of Saturn
his hair still mahogany
a Conquistador’s burning eyes

I thought that improved by death
he’d shimmer like a crystal butterfly
but instead this empty room
blank walls only he and I

he doesn’t take me by the hand
only starts scolding me
for something so long ago
so small I don’t remember it at all

the searing flame of his mind
pours into putting me down
he is carrying on and on
and will never stop

the room has no door
there is no welcoming white light
so this is hell a small room
alone with my great love

~ Oriana © 2015

I remember that after waking up from the dream I felt shattered all day. It took me a few days to recover. It was the final loss of a great love even in its ghostly form. As Anna Akhmatova said in “The Last Toast,” “ [I drink] to my life too awful to tell about.”

He was a narcissist, but not entirely unaware of how unworthy he was of my love. He was the one who said, “People will despise you for having wasted yourself on me.” In another poem I had another lover say that — yes, poets do lie to make the poem simpler and thus better. Art relies on the simplification of messy complexities.

It was no revelation to me that that particular man was a sadistic narcissist and it had been an emotionally abusive relationship — I didn’t need a nightmare to tell me that. I thought I had already gotten over the realization that my greatest (or at least the most intense) love had been for a man of that sort — that was just one of the misfortunes of my life. But apparently my love for him had been so great that in my wishful imagination I transformed him into a future good person, a brilliant talker I could enjoy without the pain. The fantasy still lingered in my mind for decades until the dream of hell killed it. And I did feel shattered for a while, never mind the unreality of it all.

But nothing compares to the shattering I experienced when I truly, truly understood that I wouldn’t have not just the national recognition I first dreamed about but any recognition whatever, aside from a few poet friends (whose luck wasn’t any better). I’ve recovered considerably, but is there a true recovery from that kind of emotional crash — losing the dream that guided my life during my so-called best years? I survive mainly by not thinking about it, concentrating on small goals and pleasures, counting my blessings, etc. I am in fact happier than in a long time. Except for the last years in LA when I was rapidly developing as a poet and each new poem seemed a miracle, these are the happiest years of my life. Right now I feel blessed. I feel lucky — I, who was officially pronounced as “having been born under an unlucky star.”

As I revised the poem this came together: the greatest love of my life and the greatest dream of my life (in a more legitimate form: to be a great poet) — both such sad ruins . . . The misfortune of passionate love for a man with whom a real partnership was impossible, and life circumstances that stranded me away from potential mentors . . .  All in the past now, with nothing to be done about it except to live every day that remains. Well, most people don’t get what they most want in life, do they? The Buddha had something to say about that. 

An aside: The dream was a compelling depiction of hell as non-stop put-downs from the man you loved madly in your youth — the way you can love only once. There is still some romantic glow smoldering in your psyche because he was your “great love,” however misguided or downright disastrous it turned out to be. The trembling, the held breath when you merely heard his voice in the hallway in the distance. And then waking up to reality — forever. Yes, that would be hell, that kind of ultimate disillusionment and denial of romantic fantasy. In my twenties and thirties I was already fully aware that it was the fantasy I needed, never mind the reality; the fantasy of loving and being loved was enough to keep me going.

But a simpler vision of hell was provided by a vision described by Teresa of Avila: each soul is cramped into a cubicle, alone, tearing itself to pieces. That’s the self-loathing so masterfully imparted by the Catholic church and other fundamentalist religions — and/or by having experienced an abusive childhood or abusive relationships. You don’t need an outside tormentor — you internalize the put-downs and very efficiently torment yourself. 

Another aside: some have famously imagined hell as the inability to get away from people. Sartre didn’t go for the perennial joking about hell being a place where you meet all your friends and all the interesting people besides — all the freethinkers and creatives and eccentrics. No, for Sartre it was being locked up with people with whom you can’t forge a connection, people who reject you and despise you. But others have suggested that hell is solitary confinement. Perhaps in the end there would be an equivalence: we’d grow numb, stop hearing the nagging voices of others, and feel entirely alone. That’s what happened in my dream: even though I was with my former great love, after a while I automatically tuned him out, and felt completely alone.

George Bellow, The White Horse, 1922

The dream also seemed to comment on the viciousness of constantly criticizing someone. Neither suffering or being criticized improves people. Centuries of being brainwashed to the contrary need to be overcome. This is the propaganda of bullies, and the generational chain of giving and receiving verbal abuse. 

Perhaps the most awful part is the fact that we internalize this abuse, believe it, and continue to put down ourselves long after the abuser is gone — sometimes dead. A lifetime of self-loathing can follow unless the chain is broken by awareness and conscious action to liberate oneself from this pattern of un-love.

A teacher I knew once said that she can walk into a classroom and tell at a glance which children are receiving a lot of love, and which not enough. Indeed I am tempted to divide people into those who have been treated lovingly and received more praise than criticism, and those who received mainly put downs and verbal bullying. For most, it’s a mixed pattern. But the extremes stand out.

The man in my dream fell into the first group. He had the misfortune of growing up in a family that belong to that underclass that’s dismissed with the particularly cruel label: “white trash.” Being bright, and being born at the right time in history, he availed himself of the GI bill to get educated and ultimately do well in life — at the financial level. He also learned how to appear charming and seductive. But the love he received from the women he manipulated into loving him never seemed to heal the deep wounds of childhood. He was always compulsively showing off — or, if angered, and he was easily angered, using his intelligence to put down others.

Eventually I lost touch with him, so I can’t say with certainty with recovery never happened. It happened for me, so perhaps some degree of recovery happened for him too. Perhaps.

Not all stories have a happy ending. Sometimes hell is permanent. Some people live and die never having experienced what it’s like to love and be loved. But we need happy endings because no one’s story is just an individual story. It’s part of our collective human story. The more we move away from abusive child rearing (which used to be the norm in the past — think Dickens), the more we can hope for a kinder world.

 Chagall: I and the Village, 1911


Imagine there's no heaven,
It's easy if you try,
No hell below us,
Above us only sky.
Imagine all the people
Living for today.

Imagine there's no countries,
It isn't hard to do.
Nothing to kill or die for,
And no religion, too.
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace--

You may say I'm a dreamer.
But I'm not the only one.
I hope someday you'll join us,
And the world will be as one.

~ Words and music by John Lennon. 1971 Northern Songs Ltd.


Someone commenting on Facebook said that Lennon was imagined a world without cultural diversity (“no countries”). I don't think he was imagining a world without different cultures —  just without nationalism. And I'm sure he felt passionate about music and beauty — it's just that you wouldn't kill for those things, as people have for country and religion. For me it's mainly: no religion, no nationalism, no predatory capitalism. But it's interesting that it starts with “no heaven” = no afterlife. Imagine, people living for today. That's the truly visionary part, especially back in the seventies when saying "There's no heaven" was still a pretty daring thing. Without going to a  “better place,” you have to make this world a better place. Or, without such grand goals, at least to cultivate your own garden.

I remember that when I first heard the song, I couldn't believe I heard it right: "no heaven"?? I kept replaying the opening to make sure. It struck me as equivalent of Nietzsche's “god is dead.” But people (at least in the US) wouldn't talk about it. It was ahead of its times.

"Above us, only sky" is the motto of the Liverpool Airport. And I'm amazed, frankly, that the American fundamentalists have not objected to the song. I guess they pretend it doesn't exist. And a lot of "spiritual but not religious" people cling to the idea of the spirit world — the astral realm — as a kind of heaven, at least between incarnations. I think those who like the song say it's about world peace, and pretend the part about "no heaven" isn’t there.

“Above us, only sky” is the motto of the Liverpool Airport — in post-Christian Europe, that’s a natural thought. But I'm amazed, frankly, that the American fundamentalists have not objected to the song.g. I guess they pretend it doesn't exist. And a lot of "spiritual but not religious" people cling to the idea of the spirit world — the “astral realm” — as a kind of heaven, at least between incarnations. I think those who like the song say it's about world peace, and pretend the part about "no heaven" isn't there. Saying "There is no heaven" is even more radical than saying "There is no god." The promise of heaven has been the most attractive promise of religion, even if Christian heaven is rather tepid next to the sensual Islamic paradise. And the threat of hell has of course been the greatest tool of keeping people afraid and blindly obedient.


Come downe and sit in the dust; a virgine, daughter Babel, sit on the grounde: there is no throne. O daughter of the Chaldeans: for though shalt no more be called Tendre and delicate.
                      [Geneva Bible, Isaiah 47:1]

This unexpected quotation in Harold Bloom’s chapter on the Temptest (“Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human”) moved me profoundly.

“Tender and delicate” — that’s how people used to see me. But the “tender and delicate” was some years ago — the princess years of being physically attractive. A fairy child, a “little doll.” That’s when it was enough to just sit there looking pretty. Age dethrones women; now they tough “nasty women” and they “can take it” (whatever coarseness is dished out to them).

Age, which often coarsens one’s features, can create a deceptive appearance of sturdiness. “What! Martha had a heart attack? But she was tough as nails! She could take anything!”

A man is strong, an admirable trait; a woman is “tough as nails.” Interesting that the imagery is macho-shop. Did a carpenter come up with this phrase?

And anything can indeed dished out to that tough woman — no tenderness and delicacy. That’s for children and young girls. A young mother might at first encounter some protectiveness. Later, middle-aged, you’re on your own, O daughter of the Chaldeans. Tired? No man will rush toward you with a chair, much less several men, as they used to. Just be glad the ground will still accept you.

You’ve been demoted from Ariel to Caliban, who is of course expected to fend for himself without receiving any affection. Even if you were once a loved child and adored bride, who loves you now, immigrant from the past, that unknown world?

But let us end on something magical from that play. I was struck not by the famous “Our revels now are ended” — though that expresses the theme of life’s dissolution in lyrical eloquence — but by Caliban’s tenderness in explaining to the castaways that the island is enchanted:

Be not afeared; the isle if full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twanging instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices,
That, if I then had wak’d after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me; that, when I wak’d,
I cried to dream again.

There is something tender about telling someone not to be afraid — one’s voice naturally becomes soft. No need to invoke Ariel’s spirits making music. It’s enough to think of a forest — a true forest, with huge oaks and pines — and all the magical sounds you get to hear, be it only a bird, unseen, rustling in the brush.

This speech is full of such delicacy that I get sentimental and think of Hans Christian’s Andersen’s “Little Match Girl” freezing to death on Christmas Day, but in her last vision, having decided to light all her remaining matches, she sees a vision of a warm room with a beautiful Christmas tree in it. A tear-jerker, yes, along with countlesss movie scenes in which the protagonist dies seeing in delirium the wish-fulfilling scene of love and beauty.

Here it’s the dispossessed orphan Caliban, the dark-skinned outcast — “the beast Caliban,” as Prospero calls him — who has dreams of riches about to his as he lies penned in the hollow of a rock (“here you sty me / In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me / The rest o’ the island”).

But: be not afeared — there is much beauty in life to make up for the sorrows, and tenderness to make up for the coarseness. The human world may reject us, but never the ground — never the forest.

And those are the sacred places — not the ones “consecrated” by a priest with some absurd “holy water.” The earth is sacred, and so are its children — both Ariels and Calibans. 

Whiskey is a distilled alcoholic beverage that is made of some type of grain mash. There isn’t much to whiskey except for alcohol, but whiskey is also exceptionally rich in ellagic acid, which is a very powerful antioxidant, and is responsible for a great deal of the health benefits from whiskey.

Dementia: Studies have actually shown that whiskey can successfully boost your cognitive performance and reduce your chances of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Although studies are ongoing and there is quite a bit of controversy regarding alcohol as a treatment/preventative method, there is no denying that ellagic acid is extremely powerful in terms of fighting against free radicals within the body. These free radicals are often associated with interrupting neural pathways and contributing to the slow decline towards dementia. Whiskey can reduce that mental decline and improve our quality of life as we get older. Once again, this is useful when consumed in moderation; too much alcohol kills brain cells and does the precise opposite of protecting our cognitive activity.

Heart Health: A number of studies have shown whiskey to be a major player in protecting heart health. As our bodies get older, our systems become more frail, resulting in less efficient functioning of various organ systems, and weakness of our cardiovascular system. However, a study has recently revealed that those who consume a moderate amount of whiskey on a regular basis have almost a 50% lower chance of experiencing a stroke or heart attack, which is exceptional news for those at risk of cardiovascular issues.

Blood Clots: In a related note for heart health, whiskey has been shown to significantly reduce blood clotting. Blood clotting is important when you are wounded so you stop losing blood, but internally, if your blood clots at key junctures in your blood vessels or arteries, it can be disastrous. Atherosclerosis, which usually occurs due to a large build-up of cholesterol, can combine with blood clots to result in thrombosis, heart attacks, strokes, and death. Whiskey is a blood-thinner, so it significantly lowers your chances of excess clotting. It also increases the amount of “good” cholesterol, which counteracts the effects of “bad” cholesterol, further protecting your heart.

Cancer Prevention: Cancer is one of the most devastating and globally relevant diseases known to man. We are also constantly looking for ways to prevent and slow down the disease. There are new anti-cancer schemes and fads all the time, but many of them are just that, popular fads with very little medicinal information to back it up. However, whiskey has an extremely high level of ellagic acid, one of the most powerful antioxidant compounds that we can consume. An antioxidant is a compound that neutralizes free radicals, the harmful byproducts of cellular metabolism that cause a wide range of diseases, including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and premature aging. This powerful antioxidant makes whiskey a very effective preventative measure against cancer.

Immune System Boost: There have been certain studies that have argued for the immune system-boosting capacity of whiskey. Alcohol does have a traditional role in preventing illness and improving the function of the immune system, but firm evidence was never in hand. Now, we see that the antioxidants and trace levels of vitamins in whiskey do in fact stimulate the immune system, thereby helping to fight off normal colds, illnesses, and infections. All of those old movies where they would pour whiskey on a wound to disinfect it is not just fiction! You can pour whiskey on a fresh wound to make sure it does not get infected!

Diabetes Control: Whiskey has been consistently shown to reduce the chances of diabetes, sometimes by as much as 30-40%. A moderate amount of whiskey can significantly improve your body’s ability to regulate insulin and glucose levels, thereby lowering the possibility of developing diabetes.

Note: Oddly, whiskey delivers antioxidants more efficiently than wine, so arguably it’s more beneficial. The whiskey used in the studies was matured in oak for 12 years. This will of course be reflected in the price.

Warning: If you show even a slight tendency to alcoholism, you have to forget all about these benefits, and substitute . . . raspberries, pecans, walnuts, strawberries. These are good for you regardless. It's just that whiskey matured in rye is a particularly rich source of ellagic acid.

But you MUST be sure you are not genetically susceptible to alcoholism before you decide to avail yourself of the health benefits of small amounts of whiskey. Since alcoholism runs in families, and since first experiments with alcohol tend to take place in one’s teens, adults generally do know. 

Please note: Ellagic acid supplements appear to be useless. They simply aren't absorbed. So we need to get ellagic acid from food and . . .  surprisingly enough, whisky. 

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