Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont: A Review

Mrs Palfrey

The truth about aging is a subject we want to avoid. Elizabeth Taylor confronts the truth with sensitivity and honesty, stripping away the platitudes about the golden years and showing us the reality of life for an older person in contemporary Western society. The individual is rendered meaningless the more they are removed from the family group, and even when included there’s a sense of alienation. In spare sentences without false emotion, Taylor gives us a heart-wrenching picture of Mrs. Palfrey, a woman doing her best to keep her dignity. The writing has a vibrant eloquence, and was a joy to read.

Taylor deftly portrays Mrs. Palfrey as tough in a British stiff-upper-lip way. She refuses to be isolated, and seeks friendship, with mixed results, as others her age are totted off to nursing homes or live in their daydreams. Her one success is the relationship with a young man who goes along with the lie that he is her grandson. He does this in exchange for the material he finds for a book he’s writing, but not entirely one suspects, as his own relationships are unstable. She goes along as well since refuting it would cause more consternation and she’s able to at least have a relationship. It’s her refusal to go quietly that causes her to fall, quite literally. Is it better to sit and wait for death, or to die rushing to meet someone, to do something? This is a question all who live to a ripe old age will ask themselves.

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont on Amazon Kindle

Into The Fire

For those of you who’ve read Tally: An Intuitive Life, and for those who haven’t but wouldn’t mind an introduction, here’s a piece from Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen, which I’ve published on my Scribd.com site. He appears in the first chapter and then on other occasions throughout the story.

pjatstcs

Working on PJ’s cryptic writing, I played with his new definition of Intuition.

At an elemental level, he described how we learn what advances our desires, and what thwarts our wishes. When the action or its consequence is harmful to ourselves or others, we learn to dissemble, all to ensure our “emotional security” by convincing ourselves of our innocence.

I made notes. What’s valuable and what’s not? How do we make these judgments?

With him I challenged his ideas on building the intuition in childhood. “What kind of intellect can a child have? What level of perceptual awareness?”

“A child’s sensory and perceptual apprehension of the world is pretty great,” PJ responded. “It has to be for the learning process to take place. The intellect evolves, often seeming to the individual to match the world’s maturation. It’s an incredible process, both gradual and immediate.” Then, he added, “But the concept of time is another subject.

“You see, you keep piling one lie on top of another and another on top of that,” PJ said, developing his theory of rationalizing guilt. “And the deeper you get into rationalization, the more you get away from ever becoming amiable again.”

This is a process over time, he said, and can lead to justification of whole sets of actions. Eventually we feel the overload and break down, and start over again with the slate wiped clean, or we continue to heap one justification on another until the intuition, swamped by guilt and lies becomes more hostile than amiable, and is unable to change.

“What about your conscience? Doesn’t that give you a guidepost to follow?”

“The idea is that once a person becomes saturated with guilt, he has to abandon his conscience, because he can’t do anything against his conscience, so he forgets he has one at all, and he is no longer a man integrated at all. He has no integrity anymore. You run across these people everywhere you go, as you know.”

I nodded.

Winter with PJ was a return to innocence, a primitive meta-state when human beings held the future in their opposing thumbs and “emanated” abstract renderings on cave walls.

He showed me a series of small designs he called “Emanations.” He said that he may have chosen the colors to work with on his watercolors and designs, but there was no way he could have planned the forms that came out.

“It was purely an intuitive thing,” he said. “And the intuition brings you back to innocence.”

Find Tally on Amazon/Kindle and BarnesandNoble/Nook.

The Professor of Love

TALLYFRONTPJ (Paul Johnston) was an artist living in Greenwich Village most of the years between 1919 and 1987. This is one of his memories from the 1960s.

All through his forties, fifties and sixties the ghost of his wife’s husband, the passionate lover, the rejected lover and the professor of love, was in unbelievably good health.

Did a turning point come when he loved Olga at first sight, he sixty, she twenty five? And would rather be her celibate lover if the alternative was a one night stand or a brief affair? Six years in love with Olga—an embrace, a long kiss in love on greeting, but never a bussing in bed.

Meanwhile during frequent amiable meetings, going to art galleries, Off Broadway theatres, films, far out happenings, dances, year in and week out for six years, the old man was in robust health, fulfilled in amiable love.

But coincidentally with age sixty, the doctors imposed on him a heart condition.
He was in fine health between the losses of life’s time in hospitals, which he took without complaint. Nor did his losing O to a worthy husband affect his health.

On, on to seventy, the professor of love loved, often to fulfillment.

All those days he’d wake up singing, even if he slept alone. A loner, singing squeezing orange juice from the half shell, singing frying eggs, singing (but not out loud) while he worked. His health was disgustingly good.

“I met Olga when she was in the happenings and fell in love with her right away. And we made of it what we did, that’s all. I was sixty and she was twenty-five. I couldn’t see making the big lover pose, that I was in love with her for sexual reasons, which I was not. It was my first experience with amiable love. Amiable affection. And I played it by note.” He laughed, “By rote. I played as it played. And it was very beautiful.”

Olga married a young man. PJ understood this. “After all, I had nothing to offer her. It was a natural thing, and I could live with it.”

“Was her husband the one who was into happenings?”

“He was in the happenings, Claes Oldenburg’s happenings. He didn’t do any happenings. He thought art and science should be mixed, and he got a bunch of scientists to make these art pretensions,” PJ said. “But Olga was a natural genius. She was an artist in her own right, but her brilliance was beat down by her husband who used her as an attractive model-type wife to attract capital to his enterprises. Until, one day, she had enough.” After she divorced him, PJ recalled, “She left a note on my front door saying she wanted to see me.” He dared to hope they would get back together. “But her heart wasn’t in it,” he said.

“The funny part of it was when she rejected me years before, she said you know those years you claimed you were in love with me all the time and we were going out together all the time, I never felt it a bit. So she tells me this after five or six years, when I was there when she was going out with me and I could tell she enjoyed it very much. So it was just one of those things, she had become disillusioned with everything else, and she had to become disillusioned with me.”

That was quite a blow, he said, for the professor of love. The experience left him “disillusioned in love.” Soon his health declined and he was in the hospital again. At age 66, his health had been broken by a broken heart twice. The first was a passionate love, the last worthy of a supreme Zen master.

“How did you meet Olga again? Did she come here?”

“I met her a few years ago when Rogue called me and asked me to come to a poetry reading. Patty Mucha, a friend of O’s, was reading. And right away, I was sure then at least I could find out whether Olga was alive or not.”

The poet came and he asked her about Olga. “And sure enough, she said yes, I invited her, she may be here. While she was reading, Olga came into the room.”

“Did Rogue know Olga?”

“He didn’t know her. He knew Patty Mucha, the poet. Patty used to be Patty Oldenburg. She and Olga have been friends for twenty years.”

“Did Olga say she’d come around to one of our parties?”

“I’ve invited her to bring her man and come over to see my art, but they invited me first to have dinner at their place and I refused, because it was so far, all the way down in Soho.”

“Does she sound … seem happy now?”

“She claims she’s very happy.”

View photo of Olga Adorno and Patty Oldenburg and other performance artists

Chapter 25 of Tally: An Intuitive Life, All Things That Matter Press, available on Amazon/Kindle and Barnesandnoble/Nook.

Dreams

DreamParty “A living person, living alive, seeks to penetrate the perpetual underlying stream of consciousness. Even when he is asleep he seeks to know and experience his dream, for it is just so, a stream of consciousness.”

Words of Paul Johnston (PJ). Artwork by PJ. Read more.

Book Review: Increasing Intuitional Intelligence

This is my review of the book, Increasing Intuitional Intelligence, by Robert W. Sterling and Martha Char Love

The 1970s were a time of foment and ferment in psychology. Many believed that the “thinking brain” played the most crucial role in human development, and questioned the existence of instinct. This focus on the cortical garden became the predominant model. Some, however, took another path, going deep into the weeds of instinct, emotion, intuition, and the collective unconscious. Among these were Robert W. Sterling and Martha Char Love.

Today, scientists are beginning to corroborate the path less taken. They have found that learning is genetically passed down through generations. Neuroscientists are now able to better study how our brain works and are finding that conscious actions have been preceded by an unconscious or non-conscious process. Our behavior begins long before we are aware of what the action will be. The work of psychologist Colwyn Trevarthen demonstrates the instinctual ability in infants to relate to others and share emotional responses. Jaak Panksepp, researcher in affective and social neurosciences, has shown the primary role of instinct, the subcortical nervous system and emotions in animals.

In clear and thoughtful language, Sterling and Love show how the Enteric Nervous System, the “gut brain” begins operation at birth and directs the development of the Central Nervous System or “upper thinking brain.” These two “brains” each contribute to the learning process and knowledge base of the individual. The “gut brain” or “second brain” or Hara gives us important information about our interior Self. The upper thinking brain is the sensory brain and gives us information about the world outside the Self. They develop through interaction with other people and the world.

To read the rest of this review, please go to The Gift of Intuition

Children of the Moon Chapter 2 Shadow

reedysmallAs Will came near an apparition unfolded
into a gaunt figure whose face was pale,
his eyes black holes, hair billows of smoke,
his voice a storm as he spoke: And you wonder
how I came to be this troll beneath a tree.

Will moved toward the specter to ask
questions on his mind for some time:
What happened to you? Why are you alone?
With no place to live, no friends
and no family?

Shadow moved toward Will:
I will tell you as I told your brother:
I heard a call when I was young
when I was walking near a swamp;
I thought it was a signal of distress

What it was and where it came from
I have never known, and as I searched
for the source, I became unhinged;
wraiths danced before me, moss streamed
down from trees, sweat poured from me like rain

I lost my way and shouted:
Where are you? I wandered deeper in;
the cry came again:
I felt alone, and bewildered I lashed out
in anger and fear

I ran and came to a rundown home,
windows shuttered, but at the front door
a man stood as if waiting for me

This man pointed to the moon and said:
The sun is bright today. And look,
the children play!

I shivered but still approached him:
Tell me who you are;
the man laughed and replied:
I’m the door at the gate
and I await the hinge.

Will stumbled back, trembling,
wanting to escape the vision;
but Shadow was unrelenting:
the man screamed and pulled a knife
stabbing at unseen demons

I turned to leave, but he caught me;
and so we wrestled:
the child and the man

I saw him pitch full length at my feet
and his face staring, helpless:
in his panic he had wounded himself;
I watched his blood mingle with the mud
and I moved away, I tried to run

But back I came to watch the life flood
from him, until this ancient man of men
was no more than a form limned in the dust.

Shadow gathered himself together:
I hurled the blade away;
Will swayed, almost losing his balance

Shadow’s expression switched from terror
to amazement as he said:
I put my hand to my mouth and felt a claw;
looking down I saw I was
a man deformed.

Will cried: But your family, didn’t they look for you?
Shadow blinked: The pain I felt was blinding;
my family mourned the loss of their child,
not knowing I still lived, mocked and feared by all
and trapped in a state of decay.

Will felt Shadow’s terrible secret fade: I’m sorry;
but Shadow raised his voice: Don’t be.
I began my journey before I knew myself
and for that reason spent years
wandering in the wilderness.

Will stood beside Shadow:
Can’t you start over?
Shadow laughed: You are young!
He bowed his head: Once I knew I was capable
of terrible things I sentenced myself to this lonely place.

Will offered: I’ll give you a new name;
Shadow fell silent, and his face was bleak,
but Will saw a momentary spark
in his eyes, before he returned to his shelter
in the trees

To read The Prologue click here
To read Chapter 1 click here

Children of the Moon Chapter 1 The River’s Eye

Reflections1Children of the Moon

Mary Clark

The first soul is in the pupil of your eye, the second soul is in your reflection in the water, and the third soul is in your shadow. —Calusa belief

Chapter 1 The River’s Eye

If you see the rim along the river you will also see
a rare and threatened Florida elm slender and straight,
and in its shade, a broken figure hunched in misery

And this Sandy saw, a boy high in a swaying pine
perched on a bough as rough as twine
as he gazed over fawn-spotted prairie, pinewoods
and cypress domes cresting about the Myakka River
coiling its way to the Gulf of Mexico

All around Sandy and this landscape rolled
the timpani of thunder morose and monotonous
as billowing clouds on the horizon flamed with lightning

A deeper heat ignited a spark, empty heat
with a chill at its heart, lightning feet and thunder blood
as Sandy spotted a covey of young men and boys
crossing an open field, a swift arrow aimed
at the heart of the river: and he heard the cry of the hunt

His breath caught in his throat;
he knew where they were headed:
the riverbend, the sugarberry
and the lone elm:
that was where Shadow lived

Sandy swung to lower branches,
lost his grip and landed hard, knees buckling;
jumping to his feet he followed the gang
through sedge and thistle,
focused on a younger boy at the back of the pack

Sandy tackled the boy and they wrestled
in the lanky grass, Sandy shouting:
Will, don’t go. This is how it begins.
But Will shook him off and the brothers
stood at odds in the field

Sandy told his younger brother:
Shadow said it’s his own fault
he ended up this way,
he made the wrong decision, just once.
He’ll tell you his story if we save him.

You mean, fight all of them?
Will raised his fists, but Sandy replied:
I know a place where Shadow can hide.
And then they raced together, apart, together
like twin deer

Over the field a black-haired girl sprinted sure-footed;
Mira leapt a dry creek:
I saw the gang and you —
She batted rampant saw palmetto with a stick,
and a harsh rattling broke the eerie silence

Long drifts of Spanish moss on slash pines
whispered, and tiger-striped dragonflies
balanced on tall sheaves of sun-roasted grass

Away they went, tangled vines snaring their feet
as they startled bobwhite quail in a gentle swale:
birds erupted from swirls of grass, and at the tree
border an old Indian trail’s entrance winked
like the pupil of an eye

A screen of palm fronds, an eyelash lowered above
the path, marked the gateway and one by one
they ventured into the forest’s half-light

A giant golden orb spider swayed before them
on a circular web; bowing, they passed beneath
to follow the hidden trail

Stirring decaying leaves on the narrow ribbon
of cracked palm and snail shells, with reflections
of sun, the three climbed to a shell mound
and there they stood in a merciless glare
surrounded by twisted trees and parched shrubs

The trail snaked down one side into thickets
and soon they saw glimpses of savannah;
windblown seeds drifted over the Myakka,
and the river flowed into their reflection,
taking them in, and offering them up again

Sandy pointed upriver: I saw a boat by the bend there.
He looked below a sugarberry tree among slim stalks
of green-white wandflower: Here it is.

The way appeared before them
leading to the lonely elm;
Mira hazarded a step toward the shade,
one hand down to turn quickly around,
as Sandy and Will edged closer

Unraveling to eclipse the elm’s trunk,
the shade spoke to them:
Dark green to the sky,
a shadow below but evergreen
I need no other to give birth;
my skin is warty, dark brown;
I am often small, but may grow tall
with a single body and rounded crown;
and now my cousins have been overthrown
by a flesh-eating alien, and so unknown
I stand alone

Sandy moved forward: You have to go!
They’re coming after you.
I know, Shadow replied. It’s meant to be.
Will and Mira joined in: No, come with us.
We won’t let them get you.

They staggered back as the form moved toward them:
You see, you are afraid.
Will ducked his head at this; his brother’s passion,
his caring for this unusual creature moved him,
but he was afraid

But you can escape, Sandy pleaded,
All you have to do is come with us in the boat,
and we’ll all help you, and we can row upstream.

They heard machetes slashing vines and trees.
Hurry, Sandy urged Shadow while Mira and Will
walked backwards facing the apparition

Shadow hesitated, head tilted, a tree in a gale
and then took one huge stride to join them;
Will turned and ran in the other direction;
Sandy spun around: Where are you going?
Will called back: I’ll head them off.

In the boat Sandy and Mira grabbed the oars
while Shadow clambered in between them;
a maverick current muscled them to the far side
where Shadow jumped to shore
and disappeared into a host of trees

Will ran at top speed in the sweet bay swamp,
changing direction, leaping small streams;
he whistled as the gang crashed its way
through the bramble, and taunted them:
Can’t catch me, I’m a shadow.

A chill ran down Will’s back as he said this,
and his foot caught on a vine; he fell
face forward into the fermenting mud

Will lurched to his feet and whirled about
just as a blow smacked into his chest;
Take that, a young man spat out,
and the gang began to shout: Who are you?
Where is that freak who hangs out here?

A piercing cry severed sky from earth
and set the grass quivering with overtones
of victory and undertones of despair;
Will and the gang were frozen in fear and awe,
and then they scurried away in every direction

Will slipped away in the confusion, discovering
a path to the river; Mira and Sandy rowed hard
to bring the boat against the wily channel,
turn toward the riverbank to pick him up,
and in a blink of an eye glide into the river’s maze

To read Children of the Moon, Chapter 2: Shadow, click here

Fragile Thread of Human Involvement

Excerpt from Chapter 5 of Tally: An Intuitive Life, All Things That Matter Press

PJsmaller

Paul Johnston (PJ)

Rogue and I celebrated PJ’s 79th birthday in Washington Square Park. PJ was festive in burnt sienna pants, a white somewhat stained Arrow shirt and a red scarf around his neck. His daughter, who looked like him in a sleeker version, joined us, bringing homemade ratatouille.

“The fragile thread of human involvement,” PJ observed, “is actually very strong. It’s impossible to break it, consciously. No one human being can break it.”

PJ asked me to help him organize his writing and publish booklets of his work. It would be a challenge to unravel his mysterious typo-filled pages and recreate them to make sense. At times, the ribbon was so light I could barely discern the letters; I used a pencil to bring them up. Other times his hand settled on the wrong row on the keyboard and I sat by my typewriter comparing the letters on his manuscript to the corresponding keys on the row above. After making corrections, assembling sentences and finding the general drift of the piece I re-typed it for him and brought it back to read to him.

“You’re the old man’s eyes and ears,” he said. “You give him a future; you give him a reason to live.”

***

PJ gave me monogrammed letterhead. He had cut out the letters “EYES” and pasted them up. The letters were neat, elegant.

“Like you,” PJ said.

Rogue smiled, saying PJ had worked hard on it and taken it to the copy shop himself. There were 1000 sheets. It was an extravagant gift from someone as poor as PJ.

“It’s for The Company,” Rogue said. He called PJ’s proposal “The Company.”

We were going to work together to promote the work of all three of us.

I took the paper home, with a strong aversion to being known as “EYES.”

PJ was trying to change my identity. I recognized that Rogue’s using the letters of his first, middle and last name as almost another name had come from PJ’s influence. PJ, meanwhile, had started calling his corporate self, Words.

“The old man,” PJ said, “hopes to relieve his poverty and Rogue the prospect of poverty for the rest of his life.”

***
Rogue left to visit a relative and PJ and I were completely alone for the first time. I was not sure if PJ had asked Rogue to engineer this or if Rogue had his own reasons.

PJ and I walked to Washington Square Park. I was nervous. What was I going to say to him?

PJ was obviously pleased and said that Rogue’s “intuition” in leaving us alone was “very strong.” In the park he said his first impression of me was that I had been able to remain innocent, not an easy thing to do in this world, and that fascinated him.

“You know when you meet someone, you make an instantaneous decision. It may be a pleasant experience, but if you don’t get anything of value out of it, and that’s an unconscious evaluation for most people, you never find the time to meet with them again.” He spoke more softly, “Those offers and promises of lunch, coffee, a movie, somehow never happen.”

I nodded, yes. I had experienced this. I had always thought warmly of the person, but in fact, the connection never developed. Consciously, I would not admit that I had determined there was not enough worth knowing in the other person to incorporate them into my life, and vice versa. I recognized the truth in what he was saying. What was my value to PJ? To be seen with a young woman? To bolster his ego, or to assuage his loneliness?

Over dinner in his cramped kitchen, he confided, “In losing my wife, I lost the female half of myself. After the hospital, I existed completely male in the body of a skeleton.” With a bohemian leer, he added, “And no place to hide my embarrassment.”

“But don’t you have a female side as well?”

He shook his head, no, he did not have that. He needed a woman in his life or he was only half alive. “And of course, I had no recourse to the intellectual collaboration which two perspectives make possible.”

And so, over the years, when there was no woman in PJ’s life, he created female personalities, wrote under their names, wrote twenty page letters to them each day, created life stories for them and carried on the collaboration.

“Pearl Joying and Justine Paris. What a pair of gals they were.” He began to hum a “little ditty” from his childhood.

The women he knew in fact and in theory were essential to his ideas.

“When I look back on it and appreciate my wife was one person and I another, I realize she and I were so intuitively together that six years after the split, we got together again for a year and everybody knew, just seeing us together, that we were a man and a woman in love. That was the intuitive thing that sometimes a couple goes on for maybe a year or a year and a half before they begin to get suspicious and start quarreling, start raising issues.”

PJ pulled a box from a shelf beneath a street window and pointed to nine or ten others along the long outer wall. All had the name “Document” hand-printed on them.

“It’s not like any other diary ever written before,” he suggested in an explanatory way as though to persuade me. “This is a study, a documentation, of one’s man’s stream of consciousness, written daily for over thirty years.”

“Every day?”

He nodded yes. “But not compulsively. If it had been compulsive, I’d suspect that it was written as a substitute for being with a woman in love.”

“After your divorce.”

“After the hospital. The Document begins with an account of the paranoia in the hospital. It’s about papa’s death and rebirth in a wasted body at forty years of age. Then he was deserted by his wife.”

“What do you mean? I thought you left her, or it was mutual.”

“I became conscious and saw her blood flowing to me. Then I passed out. When I woke again, she was not there. She never came to see me again. I was lost until the writer identified the emaciated remains as the ghost of his wife’s husband.”

“It’s stream of consciousness?” All of it? It seemed exhausting, overwhelming.

“It didn’t start out that way.” He opened a box and showed me onion-skin pages inside, thousands of them. “The first two or three years, it was garbled and confused. Because I was writing to justify myself. I was rationalizing all my actions and my motivations.”

At the time he was working as a book designer at a press in Greenwich Village. In the mornings, he would do his work and leave the information for his assistant, then spend the afternoons at the Museum of Modern Art. Besides the art and relaxing ambience, it was a good place to meet intelligent and interesting women.

One afternoon he met a woman in the penthouse restaurant.

“I was telling her about everything that was wrong with my life, about my illness and recovery, about my divorce and my low salary as a book designer.”

She listened quietly until the end and then she said, “You seem to have things pretty much as you want them.”

He shook his head. “And I thought, my God, maybe I do have everything as I want it. I thought, maybe I’m not right about this. I began to investigate my thoughts, as they occurred before, during and after situations.”

I sat in MOMA and let the flow of my consciousness go by. I could feel,” he said, his fingers responding to tactile memory, “its ripple. Do you know what Walt Whitman said about idleness? ‘I loaf and let the world in.’ This is what I did.”

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Death and Renascence

Excerpt from Chapter 4

Tally: An Intuitive Life, All Things That Matter Press

PJ described the hours and days that followed. “There was a terrible clacking noise beating on his eardrums. Loud. Sharp. Penetrating, like metal against metal, woke him. When it moved away it came back again, stronger, louder, more tortuous than before. How could he bear it? He cried out, ‘What is that noise? I can’t stand it. Can’t someone stop it?’”

A nurse answered, “It’s only a power mower. Someone outside is mowing the lawn.”

“Make them stop it,” he pleaded. “I can’t take it.” But already he could begin to take it. After all, it was only a power mower, a man mowing the grass. The sound became normal.

“What is this?” he cried out. “Where am I? What am I doing here? Who are you?”

With her calm and matter-of-fact voice, the nurse answered, “You were out yesterday for a long time, out cold. Now you’ve had three blood transfusions and you are alive again. Take it easy. Don’t worry, just rest.”

He thought, “How awful. Yesterday I was dead. My God, what a silly sentimental speech I made.” When he woke up and saw that he was alive, it repulsed him. “Why couldn’t they have left him alone? Why couldn’t they have let him remain dead?”

He wrote:

There was really no place in the world for him now. He was not a newborn baby. He had a man’s body, a man’s consciousness, a man’s load of experience, memory. How could he accept life?

He had died and those damned doctors were probably patting themselves on the back, bragging about how they had saved him.

Damn them. Why didn’t they let him die?

He hated with all his strength the life he would now have to begin to live. He turned his face to the wall. He was horribly shattered that he had to live again. His family could have taken more easily the consequences of his death. Now, he, himself, would have to live with them, while they lived with a man who was no longer a husband and a father, but a specter returned to harass them. He buried his face in the pillow. He did not weep, or mourn for himself, dead or alive.

“The Father and Husband died on the operating table forty years ago. I could not continue my former life, could not be the man I was before my death.”

“You said you’d lived past your destiny.”

“Yes. But I had to accept that I could not regain my death any more than deny myself alive.” He was a skeleton, but he was alive. “I had to learn to live again, and find new reasons to live.”

In “Tender Branch,” he quoted the Book of Job:

“For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down,
that it will sprout again,
and that the tender branch thereof will not cease.”

“So when I physically died on the operating table, I was reborn, innocent as a newborn baby, but with the memory of a grown man. But death had taken away all my guilt and replaced it with innocence.”

***

PJ, in yellow cut off shorts and ravaged wicker sandals, was sitting on the corner by the restaurant with his Fair Weather Gallery. People passed by and I heard one of them say, “Look, the Old Man of the Village.”

He would not put a price on the drawings and designs.

“Art is priceless,” he said. People failed to understand that when they took or received a piece of art they were supposed to offer a contribution to the artist, so the artist could keep on working. PJ continued to be mystified by people who took a piece of work and simply walked away.

I sat down on a folding chair next to him, picking up one of his paintings and resting it against my legs. Across Greenwich Avenue, where the Women’s House of Detention once stood, a garden was in full throttle. “I didn’t know if you’d be here,” I said. “I took a chance.”

“The fragile thread is woven from these intuitive acts,” PJ commented.

People sat at the sidewalk café. Again, the owner waved to PJ, who smiled back.

“Intuition is the motivating force behind our actions. It’s natural to respond and act intuitively, and unnatural to think about acting.”

PJ evoked many different responses on the street. Some people thought he was a bum, some thought he was crazy. But others, artists, printers and writers, Village residents, would stop to chat, recognizing him.

“I wanted to talk to you about The Document.”

“Do you want to ask me questions about The Document?”

“Is it a journal? What kind of thing is it, exactly?”

“The Document was begun one year and two months after he split with his wife. The purpose was to identify the ghost of Vivian’s husband because he had been reborn and didn’t have an identity. So the documentary writer decided to take this new born, fully grown baby and ‘make a man out of him.’”

“How do you identify yourself?”

“The first thing was that Vivi’s husband had an idea of one man and one woman. He didn’t know how he was going to get out of love with Vivi and he had just had a hot love affair with JJ and she had rejected him. The whole thing was a terrible mess.”

“You had an affair?”

“It was a big whoop-dee-doo affair that was supposed to take the place of losing Vivian. What it led to was a big deception on my part and on JJ’s part, too. She deceived herself that it was love and that I would marry her and things like that. The affair lasted a year and she decided she would reject me and give it up, it was a sudden thing. This was a tremendous blow to my ego. So that was when the document writer picked up and began trying to get me ordered in a line. He wrote for the ghost to read, that after all, a man could love as many women as he wanted to, as would let him and it didn’t have to mean sex in every case. That was the birth of the great lover.”

Over the years, he had created new identities, new reasons to live. He recorded all his “deaths and renascences.” Some identities were sequential and others simultaneous. Several of these identities were female. The most constant, perhaps continually renewed, were The Writer, The Artist, and the Professor of Love.

“You can die of an overload of guilt and hostility,” he summarized. “I died of an overload of guilt many times and was reborn with the innocence of a baby.”

“Didn’t N.O. Brown say something like that? About a new man, reborn into a second innocence?”

Yes, he nodded. “As one identity succumbs, a new one has to be created.”

In The Document he sought his motivations and evaluated the use of his time and the consequences of his behavior. “And in those early years I lived my life intuitively,” he said, “although I did not know it then, making choices which were completely unconscious, but which all together moved my life in a certain direction. We may not know it, but we make decisions based on what is valuable to us, and these small unconscious decisions cause us to go in one direction or another.”

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Tender Branch

Chapter 3 Tally: An Intuitive Life

Tender Branch

Rogue and I toured the narrow winding Village streets, as if on the canals of Venice, floating on poetry’s noble craft. Everyone who saw us thought we were together. I told him in confidence about my on and off again boyfriend, an affair that was not going anywhere.

Rogue had a romantic style that enticed many women. I began to notice him flirting with me, but never thought he was serious. He meshed his seduction into the flow of things, playing hide and seek.

To my distress, Rogue told PJ that I was in a dispirited relationship with a man who did not deserve me. PJ forged ahead as soon as he saw me. “Don’t waste your time with someone who is of no value to you.”

With this tension between us, Rogue and I traveled to Woodstock in late summer. Rogue drove all the way there. In the town, it seemed to me the people were walking dead, in slow motion, eternally young but no longer alive.

I felt a momentary thrill when I saw PJ’s papers in the library. At the same time, in this place, PJ was dead.

We walked down a road from the center of town toward Overlook Mountain, passing a boarded up meeting house. At a fork in the road we stopped at an old, unfenced cemetery on a hillside, with a view of time shaved in the form of mountains and a long valley. I knew Rogue was looking for a connection, a perspective on PJ, but it felt to me we were walking on PJ’s future grave, or the grave of his past.

I told Rogue how I felt, and he quoted a line from Peggy Bacon, a poet PJ published: “A goose is walking on your grave.”

We moved down to a spot by an unpaved road for a picnic, overlooking a muted and subtle tapestry of farms and forest in the valley.

Rogue observed, “This would be a great location for poetry readings.”

Back in the city, Rogue read from PJ’s novel, Tender Branch, written after his divorce and subsequent hospitalization.

PJ decided to publish a chapter. It would be a chapbook. A local shop had a color copier that PJ had experimented with in reproducing his textile designs.

Rogue and I spent the weekend typing it. PJ came to Rogue’s apartment and helped Rogue sew up the binding of some of Rogue’s chapbooks while we worked. Afterwards, we ambled to outdoor cafés for ice cream, in the deep space of our own world.

“I sought death,” PJ said, “by unintentional injury—not so unintentional, of course. I was hospitalized and spent weeks in hysteria and paranoia. In my own life I have been far from conventionally pure but even in my excesses, I was always innocent. And yet my guilt came out in the paranoia in the hospital. That was all my lifetime of guilt that I had so carefully put away. Oh God, the paranoia. I remember asking my wife: what have the investigators found out about me? My secrets? Did she know? Did they tell her anything?”

Tender Branch opened with a hallucino-dream in the hospital.

“It was a far more vivid experience than the consciousness that was my life. It was a kind of super-consciousness.” He remembered sitting with his back to a wall and in front of him nothing but distance. “Behind the wall, an inclined space. There was brilliant light and to his left, several feet away, naked, sat his wife with her back to the wall.

“She was as silent as he. A voice said: ‘Shut your eyes. The first one who opens them will die.’ For a long time he sat there with his eyes tightly shut, for he did not want to die, and he hoped his wife would keep her eyes shut, for he did not want her to die.

When he could not bear it any longer, he let one eye open, then both. “He turned his head to look. His wife was not there. Surely she was not dead—and he would not die.”

He knew that this was not an episode in his life, although it was certainly a conscious experience. In this new and fantastic aspect of consciousness he understood more clearly the situation he was in.

After signing a paper he was too ill to read, everything changed. “Sometimes briefly he would see at his bedside one of those out to destroy him. Hysteria, hallucinations and dark humor prevailed. He knew he was one of a dozen who were to be the doctors’ victims. They would be used as long as they could be, in the machinations of the programs for the amusement and indulgence of the rich patrons and eventually, when they were no longer useful, they would be murdered.”

He asked his former wife if she were one of them and she said yes. “But he could not believe it. He loved his wife. Even though he knew she would leave him and he would die because he could not live without loving her.”

The major torment the doctors devised was to “open all the shut and locked doors in his mind and transmit his secret thoughts to people in the next room. Film projectors had been set up in concealed places and he could look nowhere without seeing the lurid, erotic, unimaginable images as they danced, pranced, rolling and tossing beautiful color, with the sounds of voices, hysterical laughter, musical voices making disgraceful proposals, and participants freely acting them out, no matter what sex, what age, what combinations.”

He lamented, “Not one of his most secret and buried fantasies or memories could be concealed. Now all these people knew his deepest guilt. How could he continue to live?”

“What was it like to die?”

“Nothing dramatic about it. I welcomed death as a solution of all my conflicts. I would avoid the viciousness of a life without her. She would be free to pursue her own interests.”

“Free to create her destiny.”

He smiled, his eyes winking, piercing blue. “At the same time, I welcomed death as the fulfillment of a very great life. I was content. In fact, nothing could be more right. I had the wonder of living in love with my wife. Surely, few men had ever had it so good.”

“You were aware of what was going on?”

“For a few moments I experienced an exceptional clarity. I felt no sentiment or emotion, no regret or grief. I told my wife, ‘All the happiness I’ve had in my life was due to you, recognizing you, loving you and living with you.’”

He wrote this about dying:

Death enfolded him before he could say more. Death. Silence. Absolutely nothing, if not deep unconscious peace. That is what death is. Release from all consciousness, from all guilt, from all threats of poverty or torture of riches. The dead have no responsibility. There is no ego to establish and maintain at the cost of one’s self and cruelty to others. Peace. The apotheosis of peace, of quietness, of no emotional or physical pain, no wish or seeking for praise.

But suddenly my sublime peace was disturbed. I could not move but I felt. Cold, then warm. A flow of warmth began to trickle in. What is this? The warmth moved at a snail’s pace across a line marking half a body, seeking a place where it could break through. The point was found and with the same languid force the warmth broke through until I felt every part of myself, still inert, immobile, but an eyelid, one and then the other, opened. Without interest I saw my wife sitting in a chair beside my bed, watching me with intense anxiety. From her arm extended a tube to my arm, and then I knew that the warmth I felt was her blood, her life, giving life to my body.

He fell asleep soon after. His last conscious thought was this: She is giving birth to me.

Tally: An Intuitive Life, published by All Things That Matter Press, is available in print and ebook formats.

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