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

Book Review: Echoes of Narcissus in the Gardens of Delight by Jo Robinson

From the beginning, Jo Robinson’s world of fantasy and harsh psychological realities in Echoes of Narcissus in the Gardens of Delight held me in thrall. This is a story of an interior life, as Donna, the main character, struggles to break free. She is trapped in a loveless and emotionally abusive marriage by a narcissistic husband. For many years she has poured her love and hope into her garden. And it is in her search for seeds for her garden that she meets Elvira, an extraordinary woman, who shares her interest. These gardens flow from the spirits of the women into land-shaping, and life-shaping, manifestations. They are touchstones, as the story evolves, for many lives. Elvira visits Donna, which very few others have managed to do, and sees Donna’s fantastic garden. Elvira has an impressive garden of her own, in town, with a café catering to people who are in transition from divorce, job loss, or death of a loved one. One of the ways they heal is by working with elderly people who live alone.

51p+WiVpzAL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Donna begins to connect with Elvira and her friends, and gradually reveal to them what she has been creating for so long in the icehouse of her isolation. But her husband has other ideas. Will she succeed? Her story is a testament to the resourcefulness and tenacity of the human spirit in its drive for freedom, and the greatest human act and experience of freedom, which is love.

Children of the Moon, Chapter 10: Border Road

To read the Prologue, click here.

Laurel moved through her grandmother’s home,
through her creation with its sense and sensibility
and memories of a life worth living;
Grandma Wing reigned sovereign over this world
and gave it a special radiance

Aunt Ida bowed her head to whisper:
She’s our Mae West, our Madonna;
a shocking, fearless adventuress

Grandma Wing told Laurel of her travels
with her husband, in the short span
between retirement and his death

Laurel was intrigued: All over the world?
Yes, all over the world; but I know I can’t have
that back again; so I might as well enjoy myself.

A smoking roast simmered in the oven
and fresh green beans in summer savory,
and a sauce only her grandmother knew;
Laurel set the table:
But what if you fall in love again?

Grandma Wing smiled:
I doubt that will happen, and anyway
it’s much too much trouble at my age;

The old woman faced Laurel:
Did you fall in love?
No, Laurel blushed,
and Grandma Wing laughed:
You will.

On the river, Mira looked to the western sky:
It’s late, she said: Wait, did you hear that?
Will listened; a whistling sound dropped
and spiked again:
Nighthawk?

They ran up the boat ramp near Mulberry Ranch
where killdeer whirred over a sandy field
shrieking kee – kee – keee

Another scream mingled with the wild abandon
of river, birds and wildlife;
Mira and Will walked towards the piercing cry
to see a man bolt from a manor house
on the neighboring ranch

Will turned with widened eyes to Mira:
Primitivo!
Yes, yes, I think so, she replied;
They raced to follow him, calling his new name,
but Primitivo slipped away into darkness

They turned toward the house,
a sour taste of dread in their mouths
to the open front door

From the threshold they peered inside;
the house was quiet, crimson light pooled
on the floor, streaked the walls

Will broke the silence: No one’s here.
They ran with arms and legs at odds
back to the boat, and rode the river home;
an alligator glided by, watching them
with one red eye

The swamp’s mouth opened wide
and a silhouette of a man ripped at a woman
as if he could carve his name in her flesh

A corona of sun rested on every flower,
detailed every spike of tall grass;
a figure crashed into the swamp
and fox and deer went slinking away
in the bug-in-amber spell

On Border Road, Sandy saw a man kneeling,
tending to his crop; a sphinx moth whirled
its turbine wings,
and the breeze shifted into high gear;
but when he looked back no one was there

With Uncle Joe driving and Aunt Ida in the front seat,
crossing Border Road Laurel thought she saw Sandy
and started to wave, but he was walking away

Children of the Moon, Chapter 8: Wilderness Song

To read Chapter 7, click here
pasturegraySandy heard only the sound of his footsteps
as he ran along the roads and through woods;
he ran until the motion carried him
ecstatically, heroically forward; hours passed
when he thought of nothing

But an occasional calculation of direction
and time of day; he drifted along to sounds
without known sources, some near
and some too far away
to know if they were real or imagined

A symphony of random music;
this is the wilderness song:
belong, belong

A yellow carpet of bur marigold swept down
to the riverbank where the river’s current
sang the name Macaco

All along the border, river and streams
interlocked to nurture a living body;
Sandy rested in a cup of royal fern, his face
appearing in the foliage, and from his forehead
sprang a fountain of fruiting branches

He came in from the border to join his family,
helping to set out large plank tables
by the ranch house and load them with food,
while fresh steaks simmered
over an open pit fire

Downwind, behind a stand of trees
a vat of skunk cabbage was boiling;
Laurel and Will went to investigate
and Laurel asked the boys’ mother:
Where do you get these?

In the spring, she answered, orange-colored pods
burst out of the ground in the pinewoods,
and then these tender coils; all summer they grow.
But, she told Laurel, if a branch falls or an animal
brushes them, they give off a rotten aroma.

Will interjected: It smells like skunk spray
when you cook it, but it tastes okay,
he added quickly, like store-bought cabbage.

Chicken and hot dogs roasted on a grill
and baked beans, Bibb lettuce, beefsteak tomatoes.
Vidalia onions, corn on the cob,
three bean salad, green beans,
hot sauce, jam and pies were piled on the tables

The women wore jeans and crisp shirts
and the men brown or blue pants
with slanted western-style pockets
and embossed leather belts with large buckles
and lariats with turquoise or silver

The boys and girls in blue jeans
and tees took off their cowboy hats
to sit with their families and friends
among the enormous oaks
as the day’s shadows gathered

When evening came, moonflowers expanded
in a dream on a web of vines;
Will drifted off to sleep in a comforting beam
of light, the sun’s belated gift:
a lightning stroke slowed down

A bird balanced on a branch, and while he watched,
the bird went through transmutations
of colors and shapes and attitudes,
crossfading from one into another;
Mira, he said, waking up

Banners of light drifted above all sound and reflection;
as the four explored Shadow’s garden,
Laurel cradled a welter of leaves:
He’s growing vegetables. Lettuce, radish
and tomatoes, broccoli, sweet potatoes.

Shadow emerged from the pine forest;
Sandy’s eyes mirrored the changing scene:
It’s like a cloud the way he moves, filled with light.

But, Will pointed out, a shadow follows him;
I wish we could help him more;
and Mira said: It’s up to him now.

Shadow came to them:
I am rare and threatened, I am native and strange,
I move slowly among all things, I am these and more.

Shadow stood still, looking at the children:
I am a man in the prime of my life just awakening.
Sandy’s eyes swam with light; and Will exclaimed:
Primitivo! We’ll call you Primitivo;
Shadow considered this: That may be.

Mira’s father drove to Casey Key the next day;
pulling off on a road’s scattershot shoulder,
she watched him climb out to talk to fishermen,
inspecting the catch, trading stories:
Snook are good today.

They headed straight for the Gulf of Mexico,
the white lip of the beach blazing in the same sun
that had bleached the Calusa shell mounds,
the same sun that scorched
the Spanish conquistadors

Her father said:
Ponce de León saw Florida on Easter Day,
and named it Pascua Florida: the feast of flowers

Years later, a new expedition sailed from Cadiz;
Pedro Menéndez de Avilés with a thousand people;
in 1565 he landed on Florida’s northeast coast,
not far away from a settlement of French Huguenots;
he had orders to cast them out.

The French were here first?
He answered her surprise:
Up near St. Mary’s, but in two years the Spanish
had driven out the French
and built the city of St. Augustine

Menéndez set up seven garrisons on Florida’s coasts,
one of them here at Charlotte Harbor;
Did they really think there was gold here?
Her father responded with a laugh:
Menéndez had bigger plans

He believed Florida could be conquered,
both physically and spiritually;
he thought diplomacy would convert the native people.
But his soldiers attacked native villages,
and Spanish priests ridiculed native religious beliefs

When one of his forts was destroyed
Menéndez changed his mind;
he proclaimed the natives were savages,
and he asked the Spanish king to allow:
“that war be made upon them with all vigor,
a war of fire and blood,
and that those taken alive shall be sold as slaves
removing them from the country
and taking them to neighboring islands.”

You know those words from memory?
He sighed: I know those words by heart;
Menéndez died in 1574.
Everything he did was in vain.
Only St. Augustine remains.

And the Calusa? she asked him;
With a sigh he answered:
By the mid-1700s the tribe was gone,
devastated by war and disease,
leaving ragged scars on the human spirit.

Intuition

Chapter 10 of Tally: An Intuitive Life, by Mary Clark, published by All Things That Matter Press

PJ was wearing a tan turtleneck sweater and peaked white hat, álà Vincent Van Gogh. We seized an empty bench in Washington Square Park. Nearby, a woman had spread a blanket. Her older son was playing at the fountain’s edge and the younger one was crawling on the blanket toward him. The little one reached out and picked up a piece of broken glass.

His mother grabbed him and slapped his hand. The glass fell to the sidewalk and the boy screamed with rage as she placed him back on the blanket.

PJ acted as if he had seen nothing, but I felt him recoil when the child screamed. “That child was amiable when he was born,” PJ said after a moment. “He felt no guilt. Until someone slapped his hand and said, No, don’t do that. And he felt hostility for the first time.”

“He is angry,” I replied. “But he shouldn’t pick up glass.”

“Better that he is angry at the glass if he gets cut.”

The older boy came running to see what happened. He taunted his screaming brother and gave him a shove.

“You sit down,” the mother shouted. “Both of you behave.”

“Hostility is punished,” PJ observed. “He will learn to mask it with amiability. A laugh or a smile, a joke or a flattering word. After this, there will never be a time of complete amiability again.”

The mother and children were leaving and we watched them pass by the bench.

“The little one is beginning to make up his own intuitive program. He builds up an unconscious memory bank of positive and negative experiences. You see, now that we have computers, it can be compared to a computer, because the programmer puts in what can be taken out. And soon, we act and react with either amiability or hostility to any situation. It’s just—” He snapped his fingers, “yes or no, pro or con.”

“We react positively or negatively,” I said.

“If a child’s experiences evoke hostility and guilt for the most part, then the intuitive actions and reactions may become more often hostile than amiable.”

“I can see that.” And vice versa. Amiability: that was a desirable goal.

“And it’s already done before we know it. Most of us rationalize it afterward, even if it’s not necessary.” He smiled. “We may even come up with the right reason.” Then, reflectively, “We can’t bear the possibility of guilt, or we have so much built up, we respond with rationalization.”

PJ stood up slowly, steadying himself, and we walked back to his abode. In the following days I asked more about the “building of the intuition.”

“The cause of hostility is guilt,” he said. “And guilt is the absence of innocence, the feeling of being wrong. This sense of not being innocent is, for a reason I’ve not been able to discover, unacceptable to human beings. A person must perceive himself as innocent. He can do no wrong.”

“In The Fall,” I recalled, “Camus wrote that the ‘idea that comes most naturally to man, as if from his very nature, is the idea of his innocence.’ He said we insist on being innocent at all cost, even if we have to ‘accuse the whole human race and heaven itself.’”

“And so, Erin, we must believe our intentions are never hostile. The motives and consequences of our behavior are explained away, rationalized away in painstaking detail. Guilt is never allowed to remain in the consciousness.”

“I think you can admit you’ve done something wrong.”

“Nobody can admit to himself that he is wrong, ever. And I’ll tell you why. As you said, it’s because a human being cannot survive, I don’t know why, but he cannot survive without perceiving himself as completely innocent.”

He was sitting by his desk, the bright sun misting the ancient window and his white hair. “You see, the first compromise, a rational compromise, a child makes with what he knows is wrong—if there is such a thing as right and wrong—is not a very violent one. He doesn’t have to make a violent compromise because all he has to do is get around one contradiction. But as the contradictions of life pile up, he has to make more rationalizations.”

He elaborated, “What he learns about harming himself or other people, he may build up to a justification of harming other people, or he builds up a defense of it and a pretense of amiability. So when it comes to action and reaction, he has no moral control of what he does or says. Because it’s always done before he knows it and he has to rationalize it afterward.”

PJ picked up his glasses and shuffled through some papers. “You see, it’s rationalizing guilt that takes so much time out of most people’s lives. Because guilt has to be rationalized, it has to be put away, it has to be quieted down meticulously.”

“It’s an interesting idea …”

“When justifications and rationalizations have gone so far by the time a person reaches age twenty, he begins to wonder if he couldn’t be wrong.”

I smiled, remembering PJ had come to the Village at that age.

“But nevertheless, he’s got to be right. So then he begins twisting, he will switch around and hop around and do anything to keep from knowing he really is hostile.”

“We become conscious of our guilt.”

“No, conscience is a conscious matter, but guilt … the point is there is no guilt in the consciousness of the average person. They are saturated with repressed guilt. Until a person’s intuition becomes overloaded with guilt and hostility. In this case rationalizing becomes necessary, a way of life.”

I told him he was using words that needed to be defined.

He thought their definition was clear, but was now trying to clarify them. “To define intuition is difficult,” he answered. “The intuition’s fragments of memory and images never become conscious.”

“And what is rationalization?”

“Rationalization is the use of reason to make one seem innocent to oneself. Actually, rationalization distorts motives and behavior to make them seem innocent to the rationalizer. You see, no one knows, or can admit, that one’s intent is but good, and we lose as we rationalize any sense of what we’re doing. We lose this sense because we reverse hostility to a pretense of amiability. Many people have laid lie upon lie, compromise upon compromise, so they no longer know whether their motives are amiable or hostile.”

What a horror. Are we this imprisoned? “But is rationalization the only way to deal with guilt?”

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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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Covenant: A Novelette

Covenant, by Mary Clark, available on Kindle (KDP) $.99

Childhood friendships form strong bonds.

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Children of Light

childrenoflightcover

CHILDREN OF LIGHT

 a poetry novel by Mary Clark

BardPress/Ten Penny Players

“The soul is a burning desire to breathe in this world of light and never to lose it -– to remain children of light.” -– Albert Schweitzer

“Mary Clark has brought us an achingly beautiful chain of poems that both watch and listen: the sun, the sea, the darkness, the light, the passing of time -– and the people who live among them.” -– Reverend Barbara Cawthorne Crafton

Children show us how to be free and caring, courageous and compassionate. Come take the journey with them.