Thanatos & Two Tiny RhododendronsMonday, November 12, 2012
Wenzel may be 75 to my 70 but he has a completely different approach to life. He may be fatalistic, like yours truly, but he is much more cheerful. His house is a marvel of neatness, it is clean, shipshape and he is constantly repairing and improving it. Only a few weeks ago he not only made a new cedar fence from scratch (and consider that he lives on a corner lot) but he also built a new swinging door to his car port. To boot he varnished the whole fence. Wenzel suffered heart problems some years ago and had his chest cut up and his interior plumbing was bypassed a few times.
He smiles when I tell him I want him to repair this camera, or that one, as he might not be around to repair it if I procrastinate. He is busy attempting to finish his elaborately detailed model German battleships. He says he wants to finish them so that I can photograph them. He says there is a possibility that I might not be around before he puts the finishing touches.
Like most gardeners I live in the hope of a next spring as I look into my decaying fall garden. Rosemary has been a bit more active than I in putting the garden to sleep. Of late I had been considering that a year from now I would try to convince Rosemary to sell the house and move to a rental house (a small one, perhaps in Burnaby which is not affected by bridges, tunnels or freeways). We would put a big chunk of money in the bank and then we might travel to warmer and drier parts and visit museums here and there. It is appealing to me but not to Rosemary. A few weeks ago she brought home to tiny species rhododendrons. She tried to hide them behind the house but I spotted them.
I could not understand the wisdom of buying plants that need time to grow in a garden we might vacate soon. Every plant in the garden like every book in my library will be a friend that in some way will have to be abandoned. That makes me wince when I consider it. Buying more plants seems a folly.
There are repairs that have to be done to the house and Rosemary is ashamed how shabby the house is beginning to look outside and inside. But we have no money for the repairs or any minor renovations. I am simply not in the mind of lending my own hand to perform the repairs. Selling seems to be a very good idea.
I called up Beau Photo and asked about my colleague. I was told the man looks great and is renting photographic equipment. Is this a folly like my Rosemary buying rhododendrons?
A month before my friend Abraham Rogatnick died three years ago he held court in his living room. It was the first time he was not fully dressed with his usual tie. This time around he was wearing a Noel Coward type of smoking jacket. Coward-like he reclined on a divan. There were four of us. George Bowering, then Canadian Poet Laureate, architect Bruno Freschi and my granddaughter Rebecca. I had told her in advance that Rogatnick was dying.
A year before Rogatnick had told me he was going to die and he had given me as a gift a life-size Mexican papier-mâché skeleton (we call him Pancho) that alternately sits by our dining room table or observes the proceedings of our living room conversations.
That year before his death, Rogatnick was 83 and had decided that he would not proceed to for treatment of his prostate cancer. He prepared for his death, wrote out his will set aside money for his art charities and disposed of stuff.
A couple of weeks before he died he had a carpenter build an elaborate ramp from his kitchen door that allowed him to wheel himself to the garage where he was going to install some sort of equipment in his car (with the help of his friend Sam Sullivan) so that he could board it in his wheel chair. The ramp was beautifully built. As far as I know Rogatnick tried it once, gave his approval and never used it again. He became very sick and died in hospital. After he died I thought about the useless procedure and the useless craftsmanship of a ramp that was never used. Would this become as I thought a few weeks ago, similar to my Rosemary’s purchase of tiny juvenile rhododendrons?
That afternoon when Rogatnick held court is an afternoon I will never forget and one that I will constantly remind Rebecca to never forget. Rogatnick and Bowering argued as to who had been the first English poet laureate. I remember that Bowering was right and this was confirmed when Rogatnick read the citation from his Britannica.
It was an exciting but somber afternoon. I admired a man who was facing death with aplomb and calm. If anything he was outwardly looking at the inevitable procedure with a smile on his face.
It brought to mind one of my favourite quotes by a former Secretary-General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld:
If even dying is to be made a social function, then, please, grant me the favour of sneaking out on tiptoe without disturbing the party.
From this I make that Hammarskjöld was a private man, a shy man but also not very curious. Who would not want to be present at one’s funeral? I have always ascertained that a good friend is one who is willing to help during a house move. A good friend might be honest, then in giving an opinion on the stiff occupying the open coffin, or not? Rogatnick who did not believe he was going anywhere, much less to his maker, would have been delighted to hold court, silently at his funeral.
Felt A Funeral In My Brain
by Emily Dickinson.
I felt a funeral in my brain,
And mourners, to and fro,
Kept treading, treading, till it seemed
That sense was breaking through.
And when they all were seated,
A service like a drum
Kept beating, beating, till I thought
My mind was going numb
And then I heard them lift a box,
And creak across my soul
With those same boots of lead, again.
Then space began to toll
As all the heavens were a bell,
And being, but an ear,
And I and Silence some strange Race
Wrecked, solitary, here.
I have a bit of advance knowledge on this as I have died three times.
It was about 7 or 8 years ago that I heard from a former student from my high school teaching class in Mexico City in the early 70s. She told me she was traveling all over the world on her job and that she particularly liked to observe all the different people and their different customs. In what was probably a fit of jealousy on my part (at the time I was already finding it difficult to justify the expense of driving to Coquitlam) I told her she sounded like that song by Barbra Streisand about liking people who like people. She was miffed. I answered via an email message signed by my wife Rosemary where she informed her that I had died suddenly. She further advised not to send flowers. My student answered with a gushing letter apologizing for her unruly behaviour to a dying man. When I answered her telling her that I was indeed still alive I received a terse answer (How could you…) and I have never heard from her since.
My second demise happened when my two Argentine painter friends decided to call their marriage quits and they separately went back to Buenos Aires. I no longer had the daily mates, the conversations, the joint exhibitions, the talking in Argentine Spanish. I became very angry telling them that they had ruined my life in Vancouver and that they had left me to live in an artistic isolation.
I didn’t blame Juan Manuel Sánchez as much as I did his wife Nora Patrich. When she wrote me an email inviting me to one of her shows in Buenos Aires (if I could not justify driving to Coquitlam…). I replied with Rosemary as my proxy. Again she informed Patrich not to send flowers. I think that her answer (not swallowing my joke) was that she was too poor an artist to even consider the expense of buying flowers. Since then we have sort of made up and I will see her when she returns to Vancouver for a visit in January.
I heard a Fly buzz
by Emily Dickinson
I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –
Between the Heaves of Storm –
The Eyes around – had wrung them dry –
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset – when the King
Be witnessed – in the Room –
I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away
What portions of me be
Assignable – and then it was
There interposed a Fly –
With Blue – uncertain stumbling Buzz –
Between the light – and me –
And then the Windows failed – and then
I could not see to see –
My third death was temporarily proclaimed to the world on facebook (note that this has to be in lower case). A very good model and friend of mine seemed to ignore my emails and phone calls. Finally I killed myself and had Rosemary tell her of my terrible and unexpected death. She answered with a very sweet letter of condolence and announced on facebook the death of a very good Vancouver photographer (I was sadly disappointed. I thought I was at least the best).
A week later my friend's boyfriend sent an email apologizing to Rosemary if I were indeed dead. But he pointed out that someone was still writing daily blogs and he only wondered if I was still alive. If this was the case he would keep it to himself and not tell his girlfriend.
She was a bit angry to learn of my resurrection but in the end she not only forgave me but she even posed for me and I took some terrific portraits.
I can only now write here a wonderful transformation in my life that came after I realized why my photographic colleague rents photo equipment and is living life as normal. He is living with hope, one day at a time. I now see the wisdom of Rosemary’s rhododendron purchase and Wenzel’s cedar fence and German battleships. My garden will be good for at least this spring. If I live life the way it should be lived, it does not matter how many more springs may be in my future or not. Should my arthritis get worse I can always have a carpenter build me a ramp…