Yearning for Wonderland

There is such a place as fairyland - but only children can find the way to it...until they have grown so old that they forget the way. Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again...The world calls them singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland. ~ L.M Montgomery

Thomas Wyatt and Anne Boleyn – Circa Regna Tonat

I have been immersing myself in The Tudors recently, Showtime’s soap opera of Henry VIII. It’s an insanely guilty pleasure, as they conveniently overlook how old and gross Henry was at the time of his last three marriages (Jane Seymour, Catherine Howard, Catherine Parr). It’s one of my favorite time periods of history…to read about, at least. It was a rather tumultuous time to be alive, seeing as you had to be correctly Catholic or Reformer (Protestant) at the right time and also on the king’s good side always.

Sir Thomas Wyatt, poet and courtier, is believed to have a romantic connection to Anne Boleyn; it is unknown as to whether she returned his feelings. It is believed Wyatt wrote this poem after witnessing Anne Boleyn’s execution (May 19, 1536) from the window of his cell while imprisoned in the Tower of London. The third stanza, in my opinion, is as deeply felt and dire a feeling as can be found in English poetry.

Sir Thomas Wyatt

Innocentia Veritas Viat Fides Circumdederunt me inimici mei
(Innocence, Truth & Fidelity – My Enemies Surround My Soul) 
by Sir Thomas Wyatt

Who list his wealth and ease retain,
Himself let him unknown contain.
Press not too fast in at that gate
Where the return stands by disdain,

For sure, circa Regna tonat.

Anne Boleyn (detail)

The high mountains are blasted oft
When the low valley is mild and soft.
Fortune with Health stands at debate.
The fall is grievous from aloft.
And sure, circa Regna tonat.
These bloody days have broken my heart.
My lust, my youth did them depart,
And blind desire of estate.
Who hastes to climb seeks to revert.
Of truth, circa Regna tonat.

The bell tower showed me such sight
That in my head sticks day and night.
There did I learn out of a grate,
For all favour, glory, or might,

That yet circa Regna tonat.

By proof, I say, there did I learn:
Wit helpeth not defence too yerne,
Of innocency to plead or prate.
Bear low, therefore, give God the stern,

For sure, circa Regna tonat.

* Circa Regna Tonat – “About the Throne the Thunder Rolls”

Book Review:To Be Sung Underwater

Article first published as Book Review: To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal by Anna Meade on Blogcritics.

When I was little, my father taught me to sit cross-legged on the pool bottom. We sat in my underwater kingdom, holding breath as long as we could and then go bursting up through the surface. The light refracted in those mesmeric patterns that are only found beneath, when the light pours through bluely chlorinated water. Below, we would have nonsense conversations and sing little snatches of song to each other that sounded like the distant keening of whales.

So the title drew me in and the book held me underneath, until I popped up gasping for air. In To Be Sung Underwater, Tom McNeal has written a gently yearning novel, one you will quickly read to find out the fate of these characters. The plotting is deft and the characterization of these flawed people is so believable that they will stay with you long after the last page.

Judith Toomey has a model life, the one she has arranged perfectly for herself: a rewarding job in the film industry, a wryly handsome husband, a teenage daughter who occasionally allows her a kiss goodnight. Then one day she discovers a crack in the veneer and slips sideways out of her life; the past she has so neatly boxed away starts to whisper to her.

Judith gives a name for herself that she hasn’t used in years in order to rent a storage unit, simply to reconstruct her bedroom from her teenage years – a bedroom where she loved a boy. The longer she stays in this facsimile room, the more she remembers about the past she tried to forget and the boy she left behind. Her real life, with her job and husband and daughter, slips away like shadows on a wall. Judith follows the memories back and back, like tugging on a pull on a sweater, unraveling until she is left with the truth.

To Be Sung Underwater paints warm vistas of two lazy Nebraskan summers for Judith, one endlessly vibrant with newly-discovered love and one that offers recovered love. That’s when the book really sings. It explores the secrets we keep from our parents and loved ones, the ones kept in boxes tucked away, snippets of first loves and forgotten dreams. This book’s siren song, the temptation to return to your one true chance at happiness, is the one sung underwater. From a great distance, it calls Judith back to the plains of Nebraska and the memories of a boy she once loved.

Visit Tom McNeal’s website.

*Book preview video best if music player turned off at lower-right corner of blog*

Red, Red, Rose

John William Waterhouse, The Soul of the Rose

Red, Red Rose
by Robert Burns

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June:
O my Luve’s like the melodie,
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare-thee-weel, my only Luve!
And fare-thee-weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ ’twere ten thousand mile!

Remembering Salvador

This post is more difficult than most for me to write, as it involves grieving and a dog that changed my life. He wasn’t even my dog; he was Paul’s, who is one of my very best friends. But he was part of my pack or, more accurately, I was part of his.

Salvador was rescued, in a most literal sense. Paul found him sitting on the street with a homeless guy, tied with a dangling bit of shoelace. He gave the man all the money in his wallet to rescue the dog, little enough to pay for a life companion. It was pure serendipity, an intersection of that perfect moment and destiny.

“Sal” was a powder puff of poofy fur and aggressive energy, half Golden Retriever and half Chow. A happy mix, aesthetically – it gave him the sweet face of a Golden with super-expressive eyebrows and masses of lion-like fur. I did not know him until later, when he was full grown, so I missed a lot of the chew phase.

The Chow in him was super-protective and often would not let other dogs even close. Dogs twice his size would inspire furious barking and yet those half his size left him bemused. He had a heart like a lion, Sir Loyal Heart.

Like most dogs, he loved long walks…in rain, in snow, in sleet and freezing cold. He liked walks at 3 am, when you could barely crack an eyeball open to see. He would take off running after anything that took his fancy; his retractable leash would snap to maximum length and dismantle your arm from your socket. He would search the bushes for what felt like hours to find the very perfect spot to deposit his gift. He would store liquid in his bladder like a camel and stop every three feet to mark an infinitesimally small patch of grass. 

When he saw you, it was a moment of pure joy. He would spring forward and charge into you at full tilt and jump up and bark with joy, asking you “Where, oh where have you been?” Once the preliminary histrionics were complete, he would not rest until he trotted through all the rooms and found my cat, Ramses. They would touch noses in acknowledgment and then he would insist on securing the perimeter of the neighborhood for his pack.

I always felt safe with Salvador in the house. He would lie flat on my hardwood floors, splayed out in all directions. Not that it was always roses; he was notorious with unleashing fatal dog farts with no advance notice. He would lick your face, most frequently when his breath was truly horrific, and could always find the most foul, rotten pile within a mile to go roll in. He was the best pillow I ever held and his paws smelled of Fritos.

One time I was crying and he crawled up into bed with me and pushed his head into my chin. His big liquid brown eyes were infinitely wise and it was at that moment that I became convinced that he might be at the top level of reincarnation. That if I were good enough and brave enough and loving enough, that I might one day be reborn as a dog like Sal. He was the Buddha of all dogs and he made my life better than it was before he arrived.

The last few years, it was clear that Salvador was aging and slowing down. Perhaps it was time for him to leave this place and transcend to another plane. He had completed his mission in life; he guided Paul through his life until he had a child of his own, Sofia. Sal left us peacefully, put to sleep after a biopsy revealed terminal cancer.

He left us and my pack is reduced by one, but I know he is off somewhere in some Doggy Elysian Fields, barking and jumping and rolling in some celestial pile of stinky.

Salvador Doggy, Rest in Peace Old Friend, July 20, 2011 – 16 years

Little Cat Feet

If I had a single flower for every time I think about you, I could walk forever in my garden.  ~Attributed to Claudia Ghandi

This week I had to say goodbye to Persephone, the sweet little cat who had been part of my life for the last three months. Every day when I walked in, she would spring to greet me, jump up on my lap and start making elaborate overtures for my affections.This was new to me, as my prior cat experience had been Ramses, who is so chill he might just as well be asleep, and Pippa, who was half-wild and would snuggle only for thirty seconds before she decided she had better things to do.

Pippa ran away from my last apartment, frightened off by the gang of feral raccoons in our neighborhood. I was devastated and spent weeks wandering downtown before and after work, calling her name, “Pip-pip-pip-pippa”. I plastered her photo on all the telephone poles, in shelters, cried a lot. I finally got a response from a shelter in the north of town; they thought they’d found Pippa.\

I drove up, heart in my mouth, and almost sprinted through the door. They took me through a corridor filled with cages stacked to the ceiling, filled with cats crying. It was like the 7th circle of hell. They brought me to a cage and pulled out Pippa. She leapt into my arms and I was crying and she was crying and the shelter tech was crying.
They asked, “You’re sure it’s her?” I, holding her in my arms as she looked up at me so trustingly, said, “Yes. Yes. Yes.” I signed the papers and took her home.

My first clue that it wasn’t Pippa is that she just loved to sit in my lap. She could sit there for hours and snuggle. But she was the same age and size and the markings were identical…until the day I realized that this cat had the tiniest feather brush of white across her upper lip.

I took her to the vet, got her shots and fixed. I couldn’t just take her back to the shelter, say “Sorry, I was wrong.” I had taken her from the mouth of Hades; I wasn’t taking her back. I named her Persephone, after that other girl who spent some time there.
Persephone was my doppelganger for Pippa. She looked so similar that I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t her. I was reminded of stories where fae replaced children in their cradles with a being that looked identical but was not the same. However, she was a wonderful, wonderful cat, as sweet as can be.
Unfortunately, my living situation had changed since I’d had Pippa. We had moved from a charming old carriage house, surrounded by live oaks and plenty of running-wild space, to a brand-new condo townhouse. Cats were allowed, but no yard meant they had to stay indoors. My poor boyfriend has the worst cat allergies I have ever seen, so they had to be confined to our third bedroom.
Ramses was fine with this; he is my sweet lazy lump. Persephone, however, was a baby cat and ready to run and play. She had so much energy that the small space was like a prison. I would go in and play and pet as much as I could, but she knew full well that the whole world was going on outside her door. It tortured me to keep her confined there and so I tried to take her outside periodically, but she always ran back after a few minutes.
Life inside got steadily worse for Persephone. She was irritable and lonely. Where she once only snuggled, now she scratched and chewed. I knew I couldn’t keep her on like this.

Persephone (“Sephi”) hugging Ramses, her big brother

Serendipity knocked, in the form of a coworker of mine. Her dog had recently passed away and her young cat was lonely. She had heard about Persephone’s confinement and it had been bothering her. So we talked and she offered and so it was agreed: I was to take my sweet kitty to her new home, the Elysian Fields.

Well, that’s what it sounded like. My coworker lives in a rather rural area, on a large lot. She has magnificent gardens, “Here are the bromeliads and here are the orange trees and here are the azaleas.” So much room for Persephone to romp and play, with her new little friend. Her house is cool and eclectic and there are a dozen-odd places to hide, a window seat to doze…in short, Kitty Heaven.
How could I deny her? All week long, before I took her, I would go in the room and pet her and hug her and think, “This is the last time I am doing this.” The day came and I loaded her in her carrier, tearful all the way down. She was oddly calm on the way down and purred a lot. I like to think that’s because she knew her lot was about to improve dramatically, though that’s doubtless just a fanciful notion on my part.
I got to my coworker’s house and it was everything I could have hoped for the cat I loved and was leaving. I sat there for awhile with her and watched, heart full of bittersweet happiness. She already was happier, bounding here and there and exploring, sniffing everything. She found a new favorite spot, behind the bookcase. One last pet and then I left her there, much happier than when she came.

I know that the parting is not forever. I have been invited to come and see her whenever I like. And I know that Persephone is far, far happier. And, like Demeter, I know I have to let my girl go to wherever her destiny might lead her.

In no fix’d place the happy souls reside. In groves we live, and lie on mossy beds, By crystal streams, that murmur thro’ the meads: But pass yon easy hill, and thence descend; The path conducts you to your journey’s end.” This said, he led them up the mountain’s brow, And shews them all the shining fields below. They wind the hill, and thro’ the blissful meadows go.

Virgil, Aeneid (6.641)  – Elysian Fields