A Cat Who Depends on Secondary Sources

This week’s edition of Dymphna’s Greatest Hits is an unusual one: not only has the poem below never been published before, but until now it had never existed except in manuscript form. It was written in pencil on a half-sheet of paper torn out of a spiral notebook. As far as I know she wrote it in the late winter of 1978-79, a few months before we met. It was the first poem by Dymphna I ever read.

Charlie was a stray cat who wandered into Dymphna’s household in Maryland and was adopted by her (probably at the behest of her kids). When she moved in here the following summer, Charlie came with her. I remember him as an amiable fellow, but he didn’t stick around very long. He hadn’t yet fully bonded with Schloss Bodissey, and it may be that the lure of the vast wilderness outside the front door was irresistible to him. In any case, a few days after he arrived he went out one morning and never returned.

Charlie was here so briefly that no photos were ever taken of him, so I used a picture of Moe instead for the header of this post. I don’t think Charlie had any black on him, but the picture will have to do.

[Moe appeared in this space a few times a quarter-century later, most notably in a heroic role in 2005 when his piteous meowing alerted his master that his mistress had fallen off a ladder picking figs and couldn’t get up.]

And now for the poem:

Conversations With Charlie

by Dymphna

Not Nietzsche…
Charlie and I discussed the weather:
Whether it would rain;
When Spring would come;
Where the mice had gone for Winter.

I sat there on the car,
Breathing the becoming air
And glad to be
With Charlie in the dark.

But Nietzsche? No…
Charlie doesn’t read him,
Except in translation,
And I have nothing
To say to a cat
Who depends on secondary sources.

The Well of Memory

This post was a “sticky” feature and was on top throughout fundraising week. Scroll down for the whole week’s worth of more recent items.

Autumn Fundraiser 2019, Day Seven

Sunday’s Update: Madonna and Child

At last! We’ve arrived at the final day of Gates of Vienna’s quarterly fundraising week. After today I’ll stop bugging you for three more months.

Tip jarBut this morning I’ll take this final opportunity to remind everyone what this week is all about: Modest donations from lots and lots of readers provide enough wherewithal to keep this website going. The generosity of our donors has enabled us — and now it’s only me — to get by every quarter. Just barely, but I get by.

I’ll have to postpone indulging my taste for champagne and caviar until one of my relatives gets elected to high office and arranges a place for me on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, with a nice seven-figure annual stipend…

If you’ve only just discovered this fall’s bleg, or if you haven’t already hit the tip cup, please go over to the sidebar and make it clink. Alternatively, you can use this handy link.

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My final installment concerning Memory for this fundraising week will be a few more reminiscences of my time with Dymphna.

The photo at the top of this update shows Dymphna and the future Baron. It was taken in the late 1980s, in the late summer or early fall. That summer had been hot and dry — there was a devastating drought early on, in May and June. In some of the photos from June the grass is utterly withered and brown. But by the time this photo was taken there had obviously been some rain, because plenty of green is visible in the background.

When I came across this photo recently, I looked at Dymphna’s face, and it seemed so recent — there she was! And then I looked at the fB — he obviously wasn’t yet two years old. That means that more than thirty years have passed since that early autumn afternoon.

I can remember a lot about what happened between then and now. A few years after the photo was taken I taught the future Baron to read and write, and made him do his sums. Then Dymphna’s mother came to live with us, and I took care of her for a year until she died.

All through the ’90s we were quite poor. I was painting pictures, and not making any significant money doing it. Dymphna was a social worker, and then later had her own housecleaning business. She kept us afloat, but all those years were pretty lean.

Yet we never lacked for anything. My son had no idea we were poor. He had a VCR and lots of videos. I made sure to take him to the beach at least once every summer. We didn’t get to stay at any high-toned beach accommodations, mind you, but that didn’t matter to him — he was just a kid. Staying in a little cabin and eating at Burger King was fine with him.

Just before Y2K I had to stop home-schooling him, because my skills in chemistry and physics were minimal. We sent him to private school, and I found well-paying work as a programmer so that we could afford it. The Lord provided. It worked out.

Just before he graduated from high school, his sister Shelagh, Dymphna’s daughter, died of a methadone overdose. The fB went off to college, and Dymphna went into a tailspin that she never really recovered from.

The foundation of this blog was my idea: I thought it might help her work through the pain of grieving. And it did. Most of you have seen her early work on this site, either when she originally wrote it twelve or fifteen years ago, or in the reposts I’ve been doing since she died. She was a powerhouse of a writer, and putting her heart into her essays help bring her back to the land of the living. Even as her condition worsened (she suffered from fibromyalgia), she kept at it as much as she could, right up until the end.

And now here I am, maintaining the site by myself and dealing with my own pain of grieving. My wife is gone, but she lives on in her writings, and is ever-present with me in this empty house that we shared for forty years.

I will always remember her, as long as memory remains.

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Knowing Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be

This week’s edition of Dymphna’s Greatest Hits requires a special explanation, because the poem featured below has never previously been published. She wrote it in the summer of 1995 as part of an extended collection that we called Therapy Poems, although its official title eventually became Intense Disclosures (which itself would require a separate essay to explain, but Wallace Stevens aficionados may recognize the reference).

Dymphna liked to say that she had been in therapy longer than Woody Allen. She had seen several therapists before I met her, but after we got together we were quite poor for almost two decades, so her opportunities for professional psychotherapeutic assistance became very infrequent.

In the mid-1990s, however, she was given the opportunity to have weekly sessions with a young psychiatrist who had just entered his residency. She was to be the central case for his thesis, or whatever it is that psychiatric residents do to achieve their final release from training and be allowed to practice. She was able to see him gratis for therapy once a week over a period of a couple of years.

She was, as she herself described it, a Difficult Patient. She knew far too much about psychology, philosophy, theology, and other esoteric subjects to be easy going for a therapist. Fortunately, her doctor was (and is) a competent, kind, considerate, and humane man, and was able to navigate the stormy seas raised by Dymphna’s psychological tempest.

Their sessions were intense, needless to say. Early in their relationship she took to writing a poem after every session, which she would then deliver to him at the start of their next meeting. At the end of his residency, when he had to terminate the therapy, she collected the poems together into a volume entitled Intense Disclosures, had it printed and bound, and gave him a copy.

To create the book, she turned all the original Word documents over to me, and I did all the formatting and indexing necessary for the print version. As a result, I have the full collection — which we always called “Therapy Poems” between ourselves until she picked out an official title — in a form that is easily accessible. “There is a Midnight” (which I posted as part of my eulogy for her), was a member of that collection, as was “Lament For My Brother”, which I posted here.

The poem below may be the best in the collection. She wrote it when she was very unhappy and angry with her therapist (as patients in psychotherapy often are). He was such a WASPy guy, with his blond hair and blue eyes, so she tweaked his nose with “To Young Dr. O’Malley From the Bi-Polar on Ward A-2”.

The poem would still be worth reading if the story ended there. However, after he had read it, he confided to her a personal detail about his life: he had recently learned that his parents had adopted him, and that his biological parents were in fact Jewish. He looked so Aryan, and had been raised a Christian, but genetically speaking, he was a Jew.

Not an old one, though. Not yet.

The poem is below the jump. By the way: “O’Malley” is not his real surname, so there’s no point in searching the lists of accredited Virginia psychiatrists to try and find him.

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Dust Off Those Rusty Keys Just One More Time

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the founding of Gates of Vienna. It should be an auspicious occasion, but the fact that Dymphna can’t help me commemorate it has kind of taken the starch out of me. I just don’t have that much to say.

So we’ll have some music instead. Thinking about this anniversary made the song “Stella Blue” by the Grateful Dead came into my mind. It was a staple of their live shows for more than twenty years, from 1973 until whatever the last one was before Jerry Garcia died. The studio version was first released in the summer of 1973 on the album Wake of the Flood, but I first heard it at a live show in Philly in March of 1973.

This version is from 1977 at Winterland. It doesn’t include any video footage, but I chose it for Garcia’s fine guitar solos, even if he does blow the words in a couple of places:

The lyrics are below the jump (the official version from Robert Hunter’s collection A Box of Rain):

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The Past is a Foreign Country…

…They do things differently there.*

In this particular province of the past, Dymphna smokes a cigarette. Indoors. And in an art gallery, no less.

Those were different times. The poets studied rules of verse, and all the ladies rolled their eyes.

Our Russian commenter Elena requested that I post a photo of Dymphna when she was young. This is among the best from those early years. It was taken in 1982, when she was in her early forties, at the opening for one of my art shows in Washington D.C.

The photo of Dymphna holding the puppy (posted here) remains my overall favorite, but this one is a close second.

* L. P. Hartley, from The Go-Between

It is This That the Darkness is For

My wife Dymphna died three months ago today. Writing about her from time to time helps me cope with the devastation of losing her. This post is off-topic from the primary mission of this site, so readers may skip it without missing anything.

Early in our relationship I introduced Dymphna to the music of Leonard Cohen, and she eventually became at least as much of a fan as I was. A couple of months into our marriage we were listening to the album Songs From a Room, and I suddenly realized the significance of one of the songs. “Listen,” I said, “that’s our song.” She paid close attention to the lyrics, and agreed that it was true. So from then on, for the rest of our time together, it was “Our Song”.

I’ll explain why it seemed appropriate, but first listen to “Lady Midnight” by Leonard Cohen:

Dymphna and I met in the spring of 1979, in a bar in suburban Maryland near where my mother lived. I had gone to elementary and junior high school there, so I knew the area well.

My father had died the previous winter, and my mother and I had just returned from a trip to New England to inter his ashes in the family plot. The return home became a grueling ordeal after her car blew a head gasket in upstate New York. When we finally got back to Maryland, I said, “I really need a beer,” and went off to a bar at a nearby golf course where the bartender was an old friend of mine.

I had reached the point in my life where I wanted to get married and settle down. I knew that you don’t meet the woman you’re going to marry in a bar — I had always been told that, and still think it’s true, as a general rule — so I wasn’t there to pick up chicks; I was just drinking a beer and talking to the bartender.

While I was standing there at the bar a woman in distress came through the door, approached the bar, and said, “My battery’s dead; I need help.” She had been there for a drink a little while before, and when she left, her car wouldn’t start.

The bartender waved his hand towards me and said, “This is the man you need to talk to. I’ve known him for more than twenty years, and can vouch for him.” So I went out to the parking lot with her, moved my car over to hers, got the jumper cables, and started her car.

We left it idling to charge the battery and went back into the bar. She said, “The least I can do now is buy you a drink.” So I got another beer, and she ordered a drink for herself (dry vermouth, if I remember rightly — that was her customary drink in those days).

We introduced ourselves and began a conversation. I noticed that in addition to being attractive, she was obviously well-educated and -informed on various topics that also interested me. After a while my attraction to her must have become obvious, because she said: “I don’t do one-night stands, you know.”

Well. I was genuinely affronted, since that was the farthest thing from my mind — as I mentioned earlier, I wanted to get married, settle down, and have kids. So I said: “I don’t have to take this s***!”, turned on my heel, and went to the gents’ to cool down.

When I came back a few minutes later she apologized profusely, and we resumed our conversation without further rancor. It wasn’t long before the age difference — she was ten years older than I — ceased to matter. The attraction was mutual, and we arranged to meet the following night (a Saturday) for dinner at the Double-T Diner up in Edmondson.

The rest is history, as told in my eulogy back in June.

So remember, boys and girls: you won’t meet your future wife or husband in a bar. Dymphna is the exception that proves the rule.

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Now, having heard the tale of The Night Baron Met Dymphna, read the lyrics of “Lady Midnight” and see why we decided it was Our Song:

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