June 2021: covid, growing (old or tree-like), books, learning, alternate realities, possibilities, right-now

<< Fourteenth COVID | SolsticeLetters | Twelfth COVID >>

Thirteenth Pandemic Post June 2021

It is now June. The spring plants are fading, but the summer ones are beginning to force their way through the warming earth.

From [Emergence Magazine].

The Mostly Everything 
That Everyone Is

by Brenda Hillman

My younger brother, a dutiful brave person, spends his work life studying the chestnut fungus Cryphonectria parasitica so American chestnut trees will not entirely vanish; I’m especially glad for his work when I’m trying to get the skins off the brain- shaped nuts with their curly, dented integuments. He was the cheerful child in the family less seized than his siblings by the idea that to please our parents even somewhat we had to be almost or completely perfect at each task. It seems his studied fungus makes cankers of two types: either they swell or sink. If sinking cankers, the wound kills the tree; it “knows” at its wound level what a life force is. Some genes that hurt the fungus help the tree. If the tree dies, the disease has become visible or it is visible because it dies. Most of life’s processes are repeatable—at first i wrote “all of life’s” but that’s so not true. Nerve-like structures fall from clouds only once. A shorter dawn sets in before the main dawn. Millions rise & go faithfully to work, taking their resolve, each person clears one throat, music is note by note, my brother gets our elderly mother up, others in his family rise, he goes to his job free of self pity, the suppressed cheer of his childhood transferred to his lab mates who monitor the tiny lives growing without human stress, hate, intention or cruelty but also without artful song so they dazzle no one. My brother and I are as close as the skin on a chestnut is to the chestnut, as close as bark of the tree to its uses. When our mother was sad she shut herself in her room, & when she felt better she’d come out. You have to slough some things off, she’d say, loving us with decades of feral intensity. He goes along, days pass through the mostly everything that everyone is, a sense of continuance is pulled from nothing, something produced when it can’t stand being nothing, love in the experiments, numbers in the mystery, the healing of the wound, Psyche sorting seeds like minutes, a wound clinging to the tree, sometimes its fruit is food, sometimes the tree is nearly perfectly waiting

for BIH

About the Poet: Brenda Hillman
Brenda Hillman is a poet and activist. Her poetry collections include Practical Water, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Award; Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire, winner of the International Griffin Poetry Prize for 2014 and the Northern California Book Award; and Extra Hidden Life, among the Days. Hillman is the recipient of the William Carlos Williams Prize from Poetry Society of America and the Academy of American Poets Fellowship. She currently teaches at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California, where she is the Olivia C. Filippi Professor of Poetry.

Studio Airport

[Excerpts of an article re: Anne Frank]
Guest Critic: David L. Ulin

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Anne Frank. No, that’s not true, exactly: I always think a lot about Anne Frank. In this moment, though, with the world in the midst of another catastrophe, Frank’s experience—and her example—takes on a different aura of significance. I don’t mean the Anne of sainted memory, whom Shalom Auslander once referred to as “the Jewish Jesus.” I mean the fifteen-year-old who died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen in February or March of 1945. Franz Kafka’s sisters, all three of them, were also murdered in the camps by the Nazis, and I have long imagined a line of inference or implication connecting them to Frank. There is so much there, so many layers overlapping, which is another reason Frank’s story continues to resonate with me.

The Ghost Writer—Philip Roth (1979)
But what if she had not died at all? What if, instead, she had lived? This is the premise—or one of them—of Philip Roth’s The Ghost Writer, which introduces the character of Nathan Zuckerman. As a young man, Zuckerman is infatuated with Amy Bellette, a woman he is convinced is actually Anne Frank. And why not? Frank herself, as Prose recognized, has become a figure of fantasy, or better yet, a template for our reveries. What Roth is getting at is a desire to save her, or at least to give her narrative a different outcome. Yet equally important is his intention to reframe her as an adult with a complicated relationship to the world. What would it have meant to Frank’s legacy if she had lived? Part of the power of the Diary is our knowledge of what happened to her; it’s impossible to read it without that overlay. “Who was she pretending to be,” Zuckerman wonders, “but who she would have been anyway if no achterhuis and no death camps had intervened?” By bringing Frank back to life, Roth (or Zuckerman) also means to take her away.

Hope: A Tragedy—Shalom Auslander (2012)
But what if she had not died at all? What if, instead, she had lived? This is the premise—or one of them—of Shalom Auslander’s Hope: A Tragedy, in which a contemporary homeowner discovers an ancient Holocaust survivor, who claims to be Anne Frank, living in his attic. This Anne is quite different from Amy Bellette; she is a writer, which means she must be a narcissist, obsessed with the success of her Diary and struggling to write a follow-up. She is wrestling with her survival; she is wrestling with her legacy. But mostly she is wrestling with the overwhelming weight of her past success—a success, she understands, that can never be outdone. “Thirty-two million copies…” she exclaims, “that’s nothing to sneeze at! I will leave this attic when I finish this book, and not one moment sooner! Not one moment sooner! I am a writer… do you hear me! A writer!” In the desperation of that declaration, Frank’s presence and her absence both assert themselves.

“What We Talk about When We Talk about Anne Frank”—Nathan Englander (2012)
And yet, Frank did die: lice-afflicted, shivering, in a camp designed expressly to exterminate her. Before her death, she hid for two years in the Secret Annex, dependent on helpers, hoping she would not be betrayed. A similar hope (or maybe its inverse) marks Nathan Englander’s short story “What We Talk about When We Talk about Anne Frank,” which begins as an homage to Raymond Carver and then reaches a darker denouement. “It’s the Anne Frank game,” a character says, describing a “thought experiment” she and her husband have undertaken: “In the event of an American Holocaust, we sometimes talk about which of our Christian friends would hide us.” The Jewish couples at the center of the story—one secular, the other Orthodox—decide to participate. Then it happens: one wife realizes that her own spouse would not protect her, that her betrayer is the person with whom she shares a bed. “What to do?” Englander asks. “What would come of it? And so we stand like that, the four of us trapped in that pantry. Afraid to open the door and let out what we’ve locked inside.”

The Diary of a Young Girl—Anne Frank (1947)
“What we’ve locked inside…” And what is that, really, if not an expression of who we are? We can never know what we will do in a situation until we get there, how we will react or respond. “I’ve asked myself again and again,” Frank writes in the Diary, “whether it wouldn’t have been better if we hadn’t gone into hiding; if we were dead now and didn’t have to go through this misery, especially so that the others could be spared the burden. But we all shrink from this thought.” What she’s describing is perseverance. What she’s describing is the will to exist. What she’s describing is not just fate but also resistance, which is her legacy.

In Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, Francine Prose describes a few frames of film, shot on June 22, 1941, available on YouTube. A newlywed couple leaves a building in Amsterdam. Then the camera pans up, and there is Frank, gazing toward the street. The clip lasts only twenty-one seconds; she is on-screen for six. “It’s less like watching a film clip,” Prose writes, “than like having one of those dreams in which you see a long-lost loved one or friend. In the dream, the person isn’t really dead.” That’s true enough, I suppose, although I think about it in a different way. Frank, after all, isn’t dead for these few seconds; she is young and coltish, turning back in her excitement to speak with someone out of frame. She is twelve years old, a child like any other, looking back from the past. This is the image I maintain of her: she’s not the symbol but the living being. Her suffering is our suffering not because she took it on for us but because of our shared humanity.

Diane's comment: I believe Anne Frank has been one of the most iconic character of our past centuries. My first encounter with her diary was when I was in high school. The Jewish students in St.Laurent High were some of the offspring of those who survived the Holocaust, and others were offspring of those who were first generation of those who immigrated either before WW1 or before WW2.

I was very impressed with how strong they were in their grief to withstand the loss of their relatives who remained in Europe during the late 20’s 30’s and 40’s. High Schools never even touched on the subject. Our history books were mainly Canadian or British History, but the stories stopped before WW1. They were also very biased toward Anglophone perspectives.

Ryan Ruby, a writer and columnist recently published this post about Wittgenstein’s short attempt at becoming a schoolteacher. One of the things Wittgenstein learned was this: “Sometimes you have to learn over and over again what you think you really know.”

My being 77 is not just a number of linear time measurement. During the last few years, I have realized just how much I have had to relearn. In doing so, I’ve also realized that my approach to teaching and learning is very different from how I approached it in my twenties and thirties. Learning from books is necessary, but if that learning is not applied or experienced, then it becomes false. It also become forgotten. I realized that to be a good teacher of children meant that I had to remember what it was like being a child. I had to experience again all the happy times, sad times and creative times. I had to remember times when learning was difficult and why. When I put myself in that perspective, I found my teaching was much better. I believe you will enjoy this article. You might also wish to purchase Ruby’s latest book.

I’m sending this link because what Wittgentstein learned from his teaching school made him one of the most famous philosophers of the 19th&20th centuries.


Found Poem from Table of Contents of Book: Light The Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Project,

by Diane Stevenson Schmolka.

daylight saving time is no saving it is just a short time of Stealing Plums and Counting Stones until you can Lose Yourself while Leaving the Reservation of the Mind

while trying to fall asleep memories keep floating I find myself Dreaming in Drag Pixel By Pixel Strangers on a Train are Letting the Leopards In Into the Deep Heart’s Core

Time Passes and I Follow This Voice Into the Wardrobe into the Self just as I think I’m losing track and nearing The Edge of Sense I discover I’m in it for The Long Game

Against Unreality the rails are speeding me to A Place to Call My Own the train becomes filled with Ordinary People where No One Ever Changes stations passengers finger draw images on dew-filled windows to Infinity and Beyond

from distant countries they Neglect Everything Else to survive in this place On Commonness I realize All Immigrants Are Artists by their strife, pain and vision they have learned to sing In Praise Of Stubborn Gladness

the window where I sit becomes a mirror a face whispers “I Don’t Know You Anymore Nobody Asked You to Write That Novel” your “Recommended Dosage is to make Music for Misfits”

Enough About Me I’m Writing for Right Now I’ve said Everything I Meant to Say I refuse to hold Rehearsals for Death Happy Accidents can bring Random Joy

© Diane Stevenson Schmolka March 8, 2020, International Women’s Day.

To end this month’s Pandemic Post, I am posting one of my poems. I hope this summer will bring an end to this anxious, sad and precarious time in which we have all been living. I wish you health and a sense of security and meaning in your lives.


<< Fourteenth COVID | SolsticeLetters | Twelfth COVID >>

Page last modified on July 03, 2021, at 12:23 AM