Counting my blessings

My great and beautiful friend, the much-lamented Robert Lax, wrote this in the prologue to his masterwork “Circus of the Sun:”

And in the beginning was love. Love made a sphere:
all things grew within it; the sphere then encompassed
beginnings and endings, beginning and end. Love
had a compass whose whirling dance traced out a
sphere of love in the void: in the center thereof
rose a fountain.

Bob, in his life and in his words, strove to lead a simple life of love and devotion and peace. I’m thinking of this today, two days before Christmas, because I’m very aware this year of the simple joys and gifts I possess and will celebrate during this Yuletide.

I think that one reason I’m so grateful this year is that it feels to me like the whole goddamned world is falling apart, disintegrating, like we’re barreling toward oblivion at warp speed and pieces are blowing away as if our heat shield has failed.

But the other day I sat in a church – not a typical place for me to be — and watched and listened as a choir sang traditional Christmas carols. My eyes filled up with tears. Part of it was feeling connected to a nice group of people who are very human in both their frailty and their collective strength, and very welcoming to a relative stranger. Part of it was just feeling the simple power of the hope that still resides in Christmas. And part of it was that I couldn’t take my eyes off one of the altos, who sang with such heartfelt joy that it made me love her even more.

Mostly, though, it has to do with this, which my friend Bob knew and which he taught me: Love is the beginning and the end. It’s as simple as all that.

So I count my blessings…

I’m alive, and in pretty good health. I’ve got three great children, each of them remarkable in their own way. I have caring, devoted, supportive friends. My mother’s going on 81 years old and still shovels snow from her sidewalk and plants a garden every year and still calls me “Nicky.” I’ve got an absolutely beautiful 15-month-old granddaughter who can’t stop smiling and waves to me when we Skype and blows kisses to me over the phone when she can’t see me but can hear my voice. And, no, I don’t have enough money, and, no, the publishing world has not yet recognized my genius, but someday I will, and someday they will, and more important anyway than fame or fortune is the gift of being in love with an incredibly beautiful and gentle woman who loves me in return, and that we’ll be together for Christmas this year.

So, Merry Christmas! I hope you’ll find time to count your blessings, too. Here’s Diana Krall to put you in the mood:

Rose of my heart

jersey roses

Best e-mail I’ve received all day had this photo, with a note saying simply “Roses still in bloom!” I’ve had a great time during my residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and I’m going to hate leaving — it’s a beautiful place, and I’ve made great progress on a new novel — but I’m also looking forward to returning to New Jersey and my gardening correspondent.

Years before Bill Haley became a mediocre and unlikely rock-and-roll pioneer he billed himself as Yodelin’ Bill Haley, performing country swing with his band The Saddlemen. Here’s Yodelin’ Bill singin’ “Rose of My Heart” –

Even better, here’s the late, lamented Eva Cassidy doing a beautiful rendition of a song based on Robert Burns’ “My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose” –

Screamin’ and Howlin’ for Halloween

One of them sometimes began his act by climbing out of a coffin.
The other, when he felt the spirit, you’d swear the man was really part-man, part-wolf.
As Halloween draws near, let’s listen to Mister Howlin’ Wolf talk about how he asked for water, but she brought him gasoline…and listen as Mr. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins explains that he loves you so much that he’s just put a voodoo spell on you…(check out the hand on the piano!)

Where late the sweet birds sang

There’s haughty glory in October days. The regal deep blue skies, the cool crisp breeze which commands and demands our attention, the grand gestures, the rich royal colors…nature’s crowning glory. It’s my favorite time of each year.

But melancholy, too, has its time in the turning year. Leaves go from green to gold to brown. Hibernation beckons.  Fire gives way to ice. Soon enough we’ll crave the heat. No sweet showers pierce down to the root. The deep freeze awaits us — and (we are reminded each autumn) we can run but cannot hide.

Shakespeare knew this:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

The passing of seasons, love lost and love found, birth and life and death, and one last leaf which clings to the limb but then at last ungrips, gone with the gust, gone with the wind.

Reason to believe

Something made me hear this song this morning. These lines kept repeating:

Losing love /Is like a window in your heart/Everybody sees you’re blown apart/Everybody sees the wind blow

The gift (or the blessing, or the luck) is when someone helps find what seems hopelessly lost, spies it through the window, reaches through the shattered pane, then with healing hands reassembles the pieces, then with a word turns the gale into a breeze, and so the song’s refrain vibrates in your humming heart:

I have reason to believe/We all will be received/In Graceland.

Someone, somehow, someplace, some song

Someone I know told me years ago that this song reminded her of an old romantic but unattainable love.

Somehow this song also reminded me of her through the years — certain lines echoed a sort of sweet nostalgic memory I held.

Someplace I’ve spent a lot of time in recent years is Highland Park, New Jersey, home base of a great band — move over, Black Keys — called The Grip Weeds.

Some movie called “How I Won the War” starred a fellow named John Lennon playing the part of an Army private named Gripweed (hence the name of the band).

Something/Anything is the name of the album by Todd Rundgren which included this song, covered here by The Grip Weeds:

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled…

William Butler Yeats

Happy birthday to one of  our world’s greatest poets, William Butler Yeats, who was born on this day in 1865 and died in 1939. So many of his works have stuck in my mind and moved my spirit: “The Second Coming,” “Easter 1916,” “Sailing to Byzantium,” “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death,” “Leda and the Swan,” and others.

But this poem, most of all, resides deep in my heart…it resonates and aches and echoes and whispers…

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true,

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled

And paced upon the mountains overhead

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

On the lighter side…

Here’s the great satirist Tom Lehrer (apparently still alive and kicking, at age 84) with his less-serious take on Yeats:

When you’re young at heart…

No rice was tossed. No music played. That’s because they weren’t in a church or a wedding chapel. They were in the library of a small town in northeastern Massachusetts. I looked up from my writing and research — and lo and behold, there they were, an older couple, I’d guess late 60s, maybe early 70s, both dressed in their Sunday best, the bride carrying a bouquet of spring flowers. They stood together in front of a fireplace and the town clerk began to read the wedding vows.

The soon-to-be-husband was serious and steady and composed as he repeated the words being read by the clerk. The about-to-be-bride looked so sweet, so happy, so nervous — and, when she had to repeat that she would take this man to be her friend and lover forever, she began to cry, love in her voice, tears of joy.

At the clerk’s behest, they both said “I do.” And when the clerk told the new husband that he could kiss his bride, he did — and then handed the clerk his small camera, so she could snap their first picture as husband and wife. And then they walked out of the library together, amid congratulations and applause from the two pleasantly surprised people working at tables in the reading room.

I wish them happiness and peace. I hope they will find contentment and comfort in the warmth of their companionship. I hope the bride always cries tears of joy when she thinks of their love.

Some love seems sure to last forever. But love can die, sometimes by accident, sometimes from natural causes, sometimes from neglect or lack of  care.

Love can  be like alchemy,  a magical alloy, a miracle for the ages, which all seek but few find. But  gold’s glitter can turn suddenly  leaden, dull and gray, too heavy to lift, precious jewel turned into sad and precious dreams.

And love can be steady and clear-eyed and hopeful, an unexpected blessing, a sweet surprise, yin and yang, passionate but also calm, past but also present, heart but also spirit and mind and soul.

I hope the library newlyweds find the true alchemy, the real secret to eternal love. I pray that they may know the comfort and strength of two hearts beating as one.

May God bless and keep you always/May your wishes all come true….May you build a ladder to the stars/And climb on every rung/May you stay forever young. Bob Dylan

And remember:

Fairy tales can come true/They can happen to you/If you’re young at heart. Riley B. King



Claire de lune

We’re talking about apogees and perigees. We’re talking about a taunting headline. We’re talking about Nat King Cole. We’re talking about Kurt Vonnegut (just for the heck of it….because his “Sirens of Titan” is underated and overlooked…and because Titan is one of the moons of Saturn). And, yes, we’re talking about the moon, which means it’s likely that we’re also talking about love.

Tomorrow night the moon will be closer to us than it’s been since 1992. The full moon will be brighter than usual — and will appear to be nearly 15 percent larger and about 30 percent brighter than your plain old full moon. That’s because Earth’s cosmic tag-along will be at perigree — its closest approach to the Earth, and more than 30,000 miles nearer to Earth than it is at apogee, the most distant part of its orbit. The moon’s orbit — and its apogee and perigree — varies from year to year, and this year it happens (personally, it feels like fate) that it will be nearer than it’s been in nearly two decades.


Nat King Cole and Kurt Vonnegut and love songs sung ‘neath the perigee moon? Listen. A red-winged blackbird asks the moon: “Po-to-weet? And so it goes: