A Celebration of the Banal

The dog woke me at a quarter to five.

He’s supposed to do that. But it’s not like I always appreciate it.

I let him out into the yard and start the coffee machine. I pour a cup of dog food into the maze dish for him to root around in later. I fill the water dish. And I whistle for him to come in.

Fresh coffee. Flipping on the timer to write before breakfast. A chain of habits. How the days pass.

On the train yesterday, I chatted with a colleague. He asked me if I think about dying much.

He’s a year older than I am. Not that you’d believe that. I touch my turkey neck before I am conscious of reaching for it.

I tell him about B., and how death has been on my mind so very much. “No,” he says. “Your own mortality”. He talks about getting older. Thinning hair. Aches. Losses. Somehow he rather quickly circles back to someone else’s death, too. His mother is well at the moment, he says, but there is “the inevitable”: Death as it happens to someone else. Death in the abstract.

I think there’s a big (culturally constructed) difference between contemplating one’s own aging and contemplating one’s own death. Or perhaps not. Not culturally constructed, I mean. If death stops all thought, well, then, as my generation would say: we literally can’t “go there”. We can distract ourselves with fantasies, myths, fairytales, and horror films: cathartic escapism that makes us shudder, and for a moment allows us to feel like we’ve “dealt with it”.

My left eyelid fell the other day. It was my “good” eyelid. It happened overnight. I know how absurd that sounds, but I swear it. The skin had become textured, like course-grained leather. Heavy, I guess.

My pale skin is rougher and more and more like a relief: more like an armadillo’s rump. Surely there is something similarly textured that we consider beautiful?

I wonder if there are tools with which to make a rubbing of my face. Well, now, there is an art project for me! Before the gravestone rubbing, I can capture, if necessarily imperfectly, this liminal state. Between the beating heart and the silence is a struggle between the body’s hardening defense and the body’s thinning resources.

The lacrimal gland has slipped and now obliterates my eye crease entirely. “That’s new,” I think.


If you stare at a word long enough it makes no sense. If you think about it long enough “old” becomes “new”. And “new” can take on an entirely new meaning: new as a shift, not a beginning.

I’ve felt these shifts before. Passing a fork in the road and knowing that was that. Poems I memorized as a child take on new significance. Maybe life is a series of ever-more-complex prisms. What seemed singularly beautiful has exploded with possibilities. Smaller, perhaps: like the beauty of a whole world under a microscope: this tiny, present pinch of life, thoroughly examined with an attitude of wonder!*

At 16, I wanted to be a famous actress. I wanted to have an apartment in New York, and to wear shoes too fancy for the subway. But at 40-something, I found myself sitting on the hood of a car at the lookout point over Bishkek with strangers. I ate dried fish, learning how to pop out their eyes with my thumbs.

Then I flew home to a tiny duplex in need of renovation, and a job that left me scrambling for dignity every day. I flew home to the two kids I never planned for; my love for them would stun me sometimes. Still does. Continual, unexpected little bursts of joy/fear/gratitude. These bursts, these overwhelming moments that strike – not always pleasant- have defined my emotional life. Home is a constant ambiguious reality, though every detail is fleeting.

What do they say? The only constant is the laundry?

I traveled a lot in my 40s. I took a lot of photos of other people’s laundry. I have hundreds of pictures of t-shirts and towels drying on clotheslines. I am always a bit puzzled that I find something so utterly banal to be so compelling.

Beautiful. It’s like the photos don’t capture a moment in time, but the flow of a lifetime. A kind of illustration.

I have just as many photos of dead birds on my hard drive. Both my kids have told me they think it’s creepy.

My memori morti.

When we first moved into that little duplex, I found a dying mockingbird on the sidewalk. I asked a man walking by if I should do something with it. Call the wildlife service or something. He looked at me like I was insane.

“They aren’t endangered or anything.”

Typing this makes me cry.

After that, it seems every time I ran on the beach I saw a dead seagull, swan, duck, or tern in varying states of decay.

I don’t know exactly what to do with all these images and thoughts. But I do know that my little alarm went off and writing time is over and It’s time to get on the yoga mat and move these old bones.

*Young people are using exclamation points again. Unironically. I think it’s something to consider.

7 Replies to “A Celebration of the Banal”

  1. This (word) won’t mean the same to you as it does to me – beautiful. How oft I’ve described a situation or person with that word, that seldom seems accepted or understood (especially for people) (and especially including me). But there it is. The stone in the middle of the creek. And still – wouldn’t it be nice if two spirits could each see the same in the same moment? I’d like to be there for that. You say many things that had I a better tongue, I’d say the same. Not death, but life. Life in the abstract? Life for real. Not which, but both. Listening, both pleasure and pain (don’t think I like those two words). Now sleep.

  2. The reflection on our own death is an interesting one. Some philosopher once said (and I don’t know who) that wise people think of their own death at least three times a day. I certainly think that ALL my poetry is in one way or another linked to this certain knowledge that I will die, and that the fear of death, the need to get everything done before it happens, is what drives my words. Always. And all my waking unwritten-down thoughts. Isn’t it what they call the human condition? Frightening in many ways, that my life force is actually my death. And now I have to go for my daily walk…

  3. We are kindred spirits. Lots of dead bird pics, lots of tears over dying birds, lots of turkey-neck touching and drooping parts. And too many photos of other people’s laundry drying on the line.

    I even wrote lyrics to a song about that, which I think Serena may have put in a song. Now I have to find it.

  4. The only constant is the laundry? Yep. Also that I can’t apply eyeliner or any eye makeup the way I used to. I could learn new ways to wear eye makeup “for older women,” but instead I just stopped bothering with it. Here I am. One less cosmetics consumer in the world, sitting with my tea on the back porch and contemplating mortality. 🙂


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