Earlier this month, I kept thinking I needed to post an Eli update. Things had been going fairly well! He got his regular stifle injections, and he even had a routine dental appointment just last week. I had noticed he had developed some mild nasal drainage, mostly clear, both nostrils … he had no fever and his vet suggested he could go back on hydroxyzine. It seemed a bit early for his fall and winter allergies to crop up, but we have had a wet mild summer so who knows what allergens could have been blooming.
And then this past Wednesday Eli had what appeared to be a bout of very mild colic at dinner … except it lasted about 5 minutes. By the time the barn owner/trainer got there and I got there, Eli seemed very normal, interested in eating, pooped, no indications of colic. Weird, but maybe he needs a round of ulcer meds?
I started contacting his vet and the pharmacy about getting the ulcer meds, and we modified his diet yet again to more alfalfa, less grain as his vet thinks long-term for Eli the less grain the better. And I even rode him Thursday, as he seemed totally fine. I’ve been taking his temperature daily due to the off-and-on nasal drainage, and it’s been right around 99.4-99.6F. He actually felt quite lovely under saddle as I am sure the stifle injections helped him quite a bit as they always do.
And then I get to the barn on Friday. Eli was eating his alfalfa but had not touched his grain at all. (I say grain — it’s Purina Senior, a fortified pellet so, no, it’s not grain exactly.) He looked a good bit miserable. His nose, just on one side, had super gross, thick drainage. Opaque, yellow and green, smelled acrid. I pulled him out and took his temperature, which was 101.6. Just above the high end of normal but definitely high for him. This was Friday just after 5 and I kind of waffled for a few minutes about whether I really needed to call the vet yet but thankfully a fellow ammy checked me and said it’s never wrong to call. The on-call vet has seen Eli before – I described what was going on and he provided some options. I had no ride to the clinic so I did ask him to come out to the farm. The elevated temperature concerned me the most and certainly the snot indicated an infection. I wasn’t sure what kind of medicines were on hand at the barn (and they’d be way more expensive to buy from the barn rather than the vet anyway) and based on Eli’s history of ulcers I wasn’t sure what kind of anti-inflammatories he could get to address his temperature. And knowing what I know about Eli, I asked the vet to bring the xray machine. (Back in 2015, Eli had a tooth extracted and a stubborn sinus infection – my 2021 is very Groundhog Day (film) and this just kind of goes with the rest of it, oh well!)
The vet arrived really quickly and began evaluating Eli. He did pull bloodwork, and I have not heard back about it, so I am assuming no news is good news. He also did a thoracic ultrasound and Eli’s lungs looked clear. The vet said the infection smelled bacterial and we went forward with the head xrays. Eli has at least one (the chipped tooth which now looks broken), possibly two teeth that need to come out. His sinus shows stuff in it (probably snot). Uggghhhhhh my poor horse. I feel so bad that he is going through this again!
Eli is started on antibiotics, which I have to mix with applesauce and water and syringe into his mouth as he absolutely would not touch the pellets with the antibiotic mixed in. He is being pretty good about it, though. He gets this twice a day, so I am making two trips a day to the barn for now. The on-call vet mentioned the dental specialist may be at the clinic soon, but another vet has also been doing a lot of dental work. I will have more information on Monday when I call the clinic to see what’s available. The on-call vet also said going forward as planned with the ulcer treatment would be a good idea, especially since Eli is now on antibiotics and may need NSAIDs after whatever dental procedures take place.
The good news is since he is on antibiotics, his temperature has been gradually coming down and was 100.2F this morning. Still a bit high for him but not as alarming to me. He struggles to chew the Purina Senior and won’t touch his Outlast, but he is managing to eat his alfalfa and hay pretty well and definitely still wants hand grazing time. I hose him off in the evening, too, to help keep his temperature under control. I don’t think the nasal drainage will stop until after the teeth come out. Sadly, I think the teeth are pretty painful for him right now, too, so my hope is that he can have these teeth out as soon as possible before the end of this week.
On a slightly random note, when I was discussing ulcer meds with Eli’s regular vet and asked some way-out-in-left-field questions, he suggested genetic testing through Etalon Diagnostics. So I have sent off some of Eli’s mane with the roots (hopefully enough – yanking mane out of this one is a bit dicey) and I have already forgotten what the website said their turnaround time was but I don’t think it was too long, like a week maybe? One of the things on the form to fill out, which was not required to be filled out, was temperament – just a scale of 1 to 10 … I did not fill that part out. How in the world do I characterize this horse’s temperament based on a number? Chill but also zero chill? Spooks at humans but not tractors or water trucks or plastic bags or weird jumps? Will bite out of love? Body clips easily but don’t come near him with a spray bottle? Also, is 10 good/1 bad or 1 good/10 bad? What number equals quirky AF? I am not too interested in the color genetics and his ancestry is pretty obvious considering he has a lip tattoo but the health stuff I am super curious about!
Let me just say … I HATE SCORPIONS. I would slice them all up into 8ths and set them on fire and douse them in sulfuric acid and hope their chitinous asses suffer for all eternity if I could. If they would even suffer.
Poor Conrad. He got stung.
Early Sunday morning as I was harnessing him for his walk, he yelped and cried terribly. And then I saw a scorpion crawling away off the (darkly-colored and patterned) door mat onto the floor. Normally if Conrad sees a scorpion he backs up and barks at it, but neither of us saw this one camouflaged on the carpet. Needless to say the scorpion is dead.
I called the emergency vet clinic in my area and they said it happens a lot and the best thing to do is give benadryl at 1mg per pound of body weight. And that scorpion stings cause some dogs to cough a lot.
Well, Conrad did indeed start coughing. Incessantly. Like all day Sunday, full-body hacking, wheezy coughs. I called another vet clinic but they said the same thing. He was eating okay, so I kept him on benadryl Sunday and Monday. He coughed less on Monday.
He definitely seemed overcome with malaise when he wasn’t coughing, but he did improve. His groomer came to give him a bath & nail trim on Tuesday evening – I did warn her about the cough but she said he did well.
He looked a lot peppier after the grooming. He still has a coughing fit occassionally and he seems a bit depressed. He is usually very chatty with me but he has been quiet, perhaps because his throat hurts from all the coughing?
I do hope he keeps improving. He has been very tough and brave through all of this! Ugh. I really hate scorpions. Why do they even exist? Like what psycho dreamed that shit up?
Eli does not know the answer to the post title question. And neither do I. But APPARENTLY Eli does not have enough girths. Let’s go over what girths he does have.
The Professional’s Choice Merino Wool girth – by far Eli’s favorite. But not ideal for summer.
The Professional’s Choice Ventech girth – Eli was loving this girth right up until a few days ago. So this girth is also not ideal for summer? Boo. He got a rub 😦
Lettia Coolmax Clik girth – Eli kind of hated the fake fleece out of nowhere this spring & I hate the Clik buckles as they snap down rather painfully on my fingers when I am adjusting the girth from the ground. But this is the one I plan to use in the interim.
Lettia Coolmax girth – see above, but without the Clik buckles. I like it. Will probably use this one in the interim, too.
Lettia Memory Foam girth – this girth is weird, because it is hard as a rock if it is cold outside. Some times Eli has liked it, sometimes he has not. The elastic on the buckles is too stretchy, in my opinion. My saddle tends to slip from side to side a bit with this girth.
Random fake fleece girth from Dover – um, not a fan. I should probably just accidentally on purpose lose this girth. The horse I had it for is long gone.
So things had been going very well with the Professional’s Choice Ventech girth right up until a few days ago, when Eli got a rub behind his elbow from it. I think we he is not so sweaty and his hair is not so fine, this girth probably still works, because he seemed otherwise comfortable in it. But for a Texas summer it is not working. He was pretty negative about the fake fleece on the Lettia Coolmax girths this spring, but he was also in the midst of ulcer treatment so maybe that will not be a problem now? I am skeptical.
So my next question to you, dear readers, is which girths do you like? I have a short list of contenders. Eli has strongly communicated to me in the past that leather is not an option.
The Professional Choice Ventech Combo girth – This is my top contender. It has the vented neoprene but is bordered by the wool that Eli likes. I don’t think the rub he got was from the neoprene itself, but from the border seam of the girth/liner (based on where the rub is). Does anyone have any experience with this girth? It looks like the best option based on Eli’s preferences, price, and ease of care and use.
The Equifit Essential schooling girth – I am still curious as to people’s experiences with this one. I like that the liners are swappable. I kind of wonder if I can buy the Prof Choice Combo liner alone, whether the wool is part of the liner or stitched to the girth webbing? I have not been able to find that as an option for the Prof Choice, so this is why the Equifit is still in contention. The reviews I have found, however, do not look promising.
Majyk Equipe “Hi-Efficiency” Breathable Girth – this girth came out shortly after I bought the Professional’s Choice Ventech girth and I was like , oh, damn. Maybe I need THAT one. It’s neoprene free! I know, we all hate neoprene because it doesn’t breathe and yet it persists as a common material for sport horse tack. Does anybody have this girth? What are the border seams on the liner made out of? Is it soft and squishy and flexible? DOES ELI NEED IT???
Really, HELP. I don’t see Eli tolerating the Lettia girths again for very long. Are there other non-leather options I am missing that work for sensitive, thin-skinned TBs?
And on a completely different note, I have a few pairs of breeches I am selling because they do not fit right.
Trophy Hunters in black olive, 32R. Worn twice. Way too big for me everywhere but the waist. I just need to do some sit ups, I guess? Blog reader price of $75 shipped via usps priority, paypal or venmo.
Equine Couture Beatta full seat breeches in berry, 30. Actually fit like a 30. Maybe even a roomy 30 (weird for EC, I know). Again, too big for me. $25 shipped usps priority, paypal or venmo.
Birkenstocks had not been on my radar since high school. But I am not one to walk around barefoot anywhere, not even in my own house. I love my German old lady shoes but, um, apparently … feet get wider as you age and also get a little longer, too. The Worishofers are 39s. I think I need 40s. And then I saw these silver, squishy sole birks … is the squishy sole a new thing? So these are my new house/wfh shoes. They *do* have that crazy arch just like they did in high school so they took two (non-consecutive) days to break in and my right foot especially is a bit angry. Ugh. Does anyone know a good source for Worishofers? I’ll stick it out with the birks because they have kind of molded to my feet but they don’t really rise to the level of comfort I experience in a pair of Worishofers.
So how do my house shoes tie into Conrad’s feature day? Because I take him on short walks in the house shoes. It’s funny — he walks right along, just like Eli. I guess Conrad is actually trotting. Or whatever you call this gait in a dog. A jog? A dog jog. Ok.
No matter the weather, I do try to get out to the barn every day. These days, something coming up at work is more likely to prevent me from seeing my horse than a rainy day. Even if the footing in the arenas is too wet to ride, I can still get on Eli and walk him around the property.
Eli has such an active walk, I figure some exercise for us both like this is better than nothing! But there are plenty of things to do at the barn when even riding is out of the question (like when it is raining or there is lightning in the area). Two of favorite things to do on a rainy day at the barn would be to give Eli a bath or to deep clean and condition my tack.
Eli is usually less excited about bath time than I am. One of my favorite shampoos right now is the Knotty Horse Apricot Oil stuff. It smells sooooooo delicious. I like the Vetrolin whitening shampoo, too, for Eli’s socks. Then I discovered that adding a little of Shapley’s Light Oil to the shampoo water is a great way to keep Eli’s coat from drying out.
Speaking of oil … cleaning tack on a rainy day may not sound like fun, but just the smell of Belvoir makes me happy. I’ve got four bridles for Eli at the barn and really only use one regularly. But I don’t like the others to just sit and collect dust, or worse, mold. Ew. The Belvoir conditioner soaks into the leather really nicely and doesn’t leave a weird residue like some other leather conditioners might.
So even on a rainy day, a trip to the barn is worth it to me. Although admittedly today I am hoping I will be able to ride after work. We have had so much rain for July here in Texas!
Berryman’s “Despair,” Matins,” “Sext,” and “Compline”: Explications
The task of beginning to understand John Berryman, as with any poet, allows for a multitude of possibilities, of directions in which understanding might be taken. But certain poems point to particular things: “Despair,” “Matins,” “Sext,” and “Compline,” as a small selection, direct me (at least, I see similarities in subject and tone) toward, in general, the Christian existentialists and the 17th century metaphysical poets. Specifically, many of the “Meditation” sections of John Donne’s Devotions upon Emergent Occasions and Søren Kierkegaard’s The Sickness unto Death inform my reading of the four poems I choose to explicate here.
Berryman’s “Despair” begins with a stanza of disjointed, sparse imagery, but each line does connect to the next. “It seems to be D A R K all the time” follows directly from the title, and tangentially from, or directs tangentially back toward, what Kierkegaard calls “the sickness unto death,” which is despair. Kierkegaard offers this useful explanation:
Berryman’s first line of “Despair” encapsulates what Kierkegaard defines as despair. “It,” whether the poet’s psyche, physical environment, personal imaginings, or whatever else may fall into the category of an appropriate subject–despair itself, even–is not, but “seems”–the poet questions his ability to define–not dark but “D A R K,” a visual essence of an emotion. The dark of “Despair” is not a friendly, calming, or simply indifferent dark. The dark is “all the time,” omnipresent. But what room is left for anything else, if any? Does the dark keep company with other nouns? The capitalization of it indicates all others are superseded. So the “difficulty walking” follows naturally. Not that the poet wanders aimlessly in a dark room and bumps his shins into the corners of coffee tables, but that simply to walk as a means of getting from one place to another requires either an active or passive guiding entity, which could be someone’s hand directing the ambler, or light illuminating a path. In dark, there are no paths and no guiding entities reveal themselves. The earnestness of “I have difficulty walking” lays upon the first line another stratum of tragic sentiment. Within two lines, Berryman establishes well the poem’s relationship to its title.
The next two lines explore a delicate idea: doubt. Kierkegaard takes an interesting position on dread, a facet of doubt:
This passage speaks not only to “I can remember what to say to my seminar/but I don’t know that I want to”, but also to the remainder of the poem. The first two sentences of the Kierkegaard quoted above define “immediacy” as “dread.” I think it is important to say that I don’t think what Kierkegaard means by immediacy is the same as urgency, or a need to do something right now, such as write a poem, in order to maintain an urgent, necessary quality. What Kierkegaard means by immediacy is not simply dread, but a fear of not being satiated, and that his idea of the immediate consists of temporary things present only in physical realms, and these things lack what makes things eternal (though I’m not sure what does make a thing eternal). Dread appears in line 4 of “Despair,” and by the time the second “I” of the line appears, the dread clearly lives within self-doubt. The doubt does not indicate the poet is unsure of himself as one who would say things to a seminar, but that he doubts the necessity of his ability to accomplish the task at all. The poet has staked the clarity of his existence on the necessity of it. This is truly terrifying.
The indeterminate to which Kierkegaard refers lives and thrives on all the doubt of the remaining five stanzas. And these last five stanzas also seem to resist immediacy as Kierkegaard defines it without exiling it. “I said in a Song once: I am unusually tired” initiates the process of reflection, because it is a memory, a past event that the poet must call back into being. And so he does: “I’ll repeat that & increase it.” Simultaneous to the reflection runs the physical, the immediate: “I’m vomiting.” Berryman does not, as Kierkegaard does, separate an immediate existence from a reflective one. This does not lessen his dread; it fortifies it, if dread is capable of fortification, which leads to “I certainly don’t think I’ll last much longer.”
The fourth stanza gets to a kernel of despair. Hope is introduced as dark was: “Crackles! in darkness H O P E; & disappears./Lost arts./Vanishings.” If “reflection never traps its prey more surely than when it makes a snare out of nothing,” then Berryman has set an altogether keen trap as much for himself as for the reader. He describes what abstractly either emerges from darkness or illuminates what must be a very small circle within the vastness, which then “disappears.” Arts are lost and there are vanishings. What is vaguely defined becomes more vague and impossible to define. Hope is an opposite of, but also a close relative to dark because not only do the two define each other, but can one exist without the other and hold meaning as they do in this poem? In the line “Vanishings”, the poet questions not only meaning, but being. The participle of the verb vanish becomes a noun, a thing that exists, and is made plural. It lacks the ability to do, to be a verb, as it appears in the poem. Things are not vanishing, they are getting vanished, becoming gone, presumably by or because of something. Here, reflection borders on the infinite, but does not quite engage. The poet’s voice does not hold only dread and doubt, but also longing. To give “Lost arts” and “Vanishings” each their own lines indicates a slowing of time, a reverence for the ideas inherent in the words, and a desire to be as the ideas inherent in the words–a negation of self.
The fifth and sixth stanzas culminate in a return to the crackling of hope, the despair of negation, the despair stemming from the inability to negate the self, and come to a plea. At the end of “There are no matches” there is no punctuation. The line break and the stanza break serve to give a more eloquent pause after the line without clearly defining the connection, or disconnect, between it and “Utter, His Father, one word,” which also lacks a final punctuation mark. Hope crackles again in “matches”; the strike of a match precedes a crackling spark of flame. But “There are no matches.” The possibility of hope dissolves before becoming fully realized. No line of these stanzas in particular indicates a specific attempt at negating the self, but the despair of the inability to do so surfaces in the plea “Utter, His Father, one word”. The poet still speaks, still asks to be spoken to, which tells a reader that the poet’s existence persists, that the poet’s attempt at negating the self fails to become manifest. The relationship of the plea to the preceding line confounds me. No punctuation guides me, though I am not sure that the presence of a punctuating mark would be much help. The matches could perhaps be matches in the sense of pairings or couplings. Whether as such or as matches struck to produce fire, I do not think that “utter” is a verb applied to them in any way, or an adjective. “Utter” really doesn’t seem to work as an adjective when read as related solely to what comes after it. The plea is a prayer or a command of some kind, one from which the poet excludes himself from its possible consequences. It is to “His Father,” not Our or My. Even the plea seems one final attempt at quelling despair through ceasing to exist.
Despair continues to color the next three poems, but the poems reach further into the nature of being and how one’s spirituality or lack of it and the nature of it affects one’s being. “Matins”–a daybreak prayer–appropriately deals with the sun before and as it rises. One of Louise Glück’s “Matins” (3) from The Wild Iris helps to glean meaning from Berryman’s “Matins.” Glück’s opens with “Unreachable father.” Berryman’s, with:
Thou hard. I will be blunt: Like widening
blossoms again glad toward Your soothe of sun
& solar drawing forth, I find meself
little this bitter morning, Lord, tonight.
Berryman uses 29 words for what Glück says in two. But Berryman positions himself explicitly; Glück does not. Berryman provides a sense of place and self and need. The sun is or has “soothe”, or the ability to do so–a placating entity. So the place the poet is in is somewhere the sun reaches, or will reach. The self is “little”–lessened or insignificant, which fits if the self compares itself with the sun. But the self also benefits from the sun: “Like widening/blossoms” and “glad toward.” The need is not described but implicit, as the desire to negate the self was implicit in the final stanzas of “Despair.” What is implicit is the need to be heard, hopefully by the “Thou,” the “Lord.” Kierkegaard helps to discern the significance of the need: “The standard for the self is always: that directly in the face of which it is a self” (111). He precedes this with, “And what an infinite reality this self acquires by being conscious of being before God, by being a human self that has God as its standard!” (111). I’m not sure how much or what kind of a standard God is for Berryman, because he at times seems more envious of the deity he addresses than reverent of him. But his kind of relationship is not so unusual. Glück’s “Matins” (3) addresses a deity in a bitingly honest, even cruel voice:
We never though of you
whom we were learning to worship.
We merely knew it wasn’t human nature to love
only what returns love.
These lines echo Berryman’s, “Less were you tranquil to me in my dark/just now than tyrannous.” Though the “you” is not capitalized, Berryman still may be addressing the deity, but also, possibly, a haunting plurality. So this deity before which the poet places him or herself appears a rather daunting measure and one that occasionally inspires bitterness and spite. Another of Glück’s “Matins” (12) serves to complicate and to question the practicality of Kierkegaard’s assertions about the standard of the self. The entire poem is worth quoting here, for its antithetical nature to what Kierkegaard asserts, and for how well it matches Berryman’s “Matins”:
Forgive me if I say I love you: the powerful
are always lied to since the weak are always
driven by panic. I cannot love what I can’t conceive, and you disclose
virtually nothing: are you like the hawthorn tree,
always the same thing in the same place,
or are you more the foxglove, inconsistent, first springing up
a pink spike on the slope behind the daisies,
and the next year, purple in the rose garden? You must see
it is useless to us, this silence that promotes belief
you must be all things, the foxglove and the hawthorn tree,
the vulnerable rose and the tough daisy–we are left to think
you couldn’t possibly exist. Is this
what you mean us to think, does this explain
the silence of the morning,
the crickets not yet rubbing their wings, the cats
not fighting in the yard?
According to this, the self has nothing, really, to work with, as far as a standard can be reached when ascertaining a deity. A deity is not ascertainable. It is instead a number of possibilities, and exists, interestingly, in a number of things that are not–“the crickets not yet rubbing,” “the cats/not fighting”–including what the poet cannot do–“love” and “conceive.” Now the self is not attempting to negate itself directly. The self is defining itself by what it negates–the deity, the standard for the self. The negation takes an indirect path to its fruition. This happens in the Berryman:
However, lo, across what wilderness
in vincible ignorance past forty years
lost to (as now I see) Your sorrowing
I strayed abhorrent, blazing with my Self.
The self takes a rather treacherous step beyond negating the deity: it admits to superseding, for “forty years,” the deity. “Blazing” even more brightly than the deity! But the self knows its abhorrence and its ignorance and the deity’s distaste for such things, which is a humble gesture beyond the reach of the Glück “Matins” (12). The final five stanzas hold the self before the mirror of the deity, the deity before the mirror of the self:
poor scotographer, far here from Court,
humming over goodnatured Handel’s Te Deum.
I waxed, upon surrender, strenuous
ah almost able service to devise.
I am like your sun, Dear, in a state of shear–
parts of my surface are continually slipping past others,
not You, not You. O I may, even, wave
in crisis like a skew Wolf-Rayet star.
Seas and hills, the high lakes, Superior,
accomplish your blue or emerald donations–
manifest too your soft forbearance, hard
& flint for fierce man hardly to take in.
I take that in. Yes. Just now. I read that.
Hop foot to foot, hurl the white pillows about,
jubilant brothers: He is our overlord,
holding up yet with crimson flags the sun
whom He’ll embark soon mounting fluent day!
(A scotographer, it is helpful to know, is one who writes in the dark. I had to look it up.) The poet praises the sun, the world it illuminates, the deity which created it and now controls it. Penitence becomes a possibility for the poet–“almost able service to devise”–but whether this is because the poet recognizes himself in the deity or fails to do so is obscured by his likening of himself to the sun. And then the sun is what the deity supports above the world bestowing its light. But the crisis of self comes in the seventh stanza of the poem: “parts of my surface are continually slipping past others,/not You, not You.” The poet cannot elude the deity, he realizes, cannot at his surface deceive it. But what about what exists below the surface? I do not think the poet explores that in this poem. I cannot find an answer to the question; any implicit hints fail to discover themselves to me. The surface, the visible, the discernable self, and also the discernable deity–the sun–constitute the matter of this poem. Even the surface that the self cannot maintain, as with the “Wolf-Rayet star”– a kind of massive star with stellar winds strong enough to carry away the star’s stellar matter, its surface (“Big Old . . .”)–, prevails over the internal and psychic worlds.
A more interior, contemplative poem is “Sext” (noon of the canonical hours). Perhaps the direct sunlight serves to illuminate even what is most obscure.
High noon has me pitchblack, so in hope out,
slipping thro’ stasis, my heart skeps a beat
reflecting on the subtler menace of decline.
With the first stanza, the poet engages in “reflecting,” an internal activity, “on the subtler menace of decline.” Decline of the self, of the state, the church, the faith–all are possibilities, but none more likely or more frightening than the decline of the self, because the self ultimately determines the remaining arrangements. State, church, and faith tend to lose meaning when no self can give them their significance. “Sext” delves into the origin of the preeminence of “Self-Preservation.” “We do not know, deep now the dire age on,/if it’s so, or mere a nightmare of one dark one”–what is not known? The poet asks, how real is this decline? Or is the decline merely a fantasy of “one dark one,” an obscure philosopher, “disciple,” idol, false god. Does this poem really ask what is THE answer? If the decline is of the self, then perhaps it’s time to bring in John Donne. In Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, Donne of course does not question the existence of a deity, but does offer “Meditation” on, among many things, the orientation of the self in relation to the deity, which is a primary pursuit of “Sext.” Donne, in sickness:
Solitude is a torment which is not threatened in hell itself. Mere vacuity, the first agent, God, the first instrument of God, nature, will not admit; nothing can be utterly empty, but so near a degree toward vacuity as solitude, to be but one, they [the physicians] love not. When I am dead, and my body might infect, they have a remedy, they may bury me; but when I am but sick, and might infect, they have no remedy but their absence, and my solitude. (26)
Though Donne speaks of a physical sickness, how conveniently his words fit a spiritual sickness, that is, Kierkegaard’s concept of despair, or simply a near-emptiness, a state of spiritual exhaustion. And solitude is this state’s primary attribute, because solitude allows for reflection, how Berryman opened the poem. And the writing of poetry is as solitary an activity as reflection. The hope in Donne is not simply the certainty of the existence of a deity, but that “nothing can be utterly empty.” One in solitude may be spiritually replete and no one can truly be a spiritual void. So the final stanza of “Sext” comes as a rather hopeful prayer, however dire the content of it. The poet ends with
so of rare Heart repair my fracturing heart
obedient to disobedience
minutely, wholesale, that come midnight neither
my mortal sin nor thought upon it lose me.
The deity is addressed by a part of it, part of the whole, as the life-sustaining organ, life-sustaining because of its relationship to blood, as blood’s engine. The “Heart” becomes the deity because it is named as such and because of its perpetuity. It is unlike the “fracturing heart” of the poet. But the poet’s heart is an acting heart, “fracturing,” in the act of fracturing itself, perhaps others, and not fractured, not acted upon unless repaired in the future by the heart of the deity. The poet pleas to be not lost from the possibility of repair by the deity’s heart. The self begins to recognize itself in the things it shares with its conception of the deity–such as a heart–, a conception not possible for the voice of Glück’s “Matins” (12), but wholly possible for Berryman throughout “Opus Dei.”
“Compline,” the last prayer of the day, said after sundown, creates a portrait of a poet either surrendering to or accepting into himself the deity. “Not that I’m not attending,/only I kneel here spelled/under a mystery of one midnight,” presents the poet in a posture of supplication and humility. More importantly, the poet implicitly admits supplication of the self through the diction: “kneel here spelled/under a mystery” indicates an awe and even some reverence for the power which holds him in thrall. The poet’s conscious realization of the thrall carries over into the urgency of the next stanza: “I’ve got to get as little as possible wrong.” The next six lines have no punctuation, but the recurring consonance of the “t” sound–as in “squat,” “unfit,” “inherit,” “left,” and “feet”–at the ends of words, though it does not cause the same pause as punctuation, serves to replace it. Consequently, these six lines move very fast, their urgency apparent in the physicality of the imagery. “Skull & feet/& bloody among their dogs the palms of my hands” transforms the living poet to an amalgamation of body parts, possibly not quite alive, though not yet dead, because the poem continues.
The speed only increases in the sixth and seventh stanzas; the poem propels itself with dashes and, in the first two lines of the sixth stanza, trades consonance for assonance, giving the impression of a speed at which pieces of the poet shear away, as in “Matins.” “Lord,” “long,” and “done”; “lapse” and “straps”; “oaths” and “toads”: what remains counters the sounds without slowing down–“phantasmagoria prolix,” exhaustion caused by sensory overload. The exhaustion causes a turn from the outward to the inward, the core, “a rapture, though, of the Kingdom here here now/in the heart of a child.”
What follows confuses. Does the poet write earnestly, or mockingly? In bitterness, or in contentment? Or even in hope, knowing that what he writes is too hard to believe?
If He for me as I feel for my daughter,
being His son, I’ll sweat no more tonight
but happy snore & drowse. I have got it made,
and so have all we of contrition, for
If He loves me He must love everybody
I believe Berryman writes earnestly here, but also that he writes, as he writes in “Despair,” in doubt. This prayer functions as prayers do. It is a comfort, however difficult to believe, to say to oneself over and over that one is loved and will be forgiven, and also that one is capable of love because of forgiveness. To say “I have got it made” is not to mock or to jest, but to comfort oneself with a familiar phrase in a moment, or a lifetime, of doubt. Just to be able to say or to write such a thing lets an individual, if only for a moment, feel the possibility of it.
The final stanza slows down to about the speed of the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, though so much of the poem before this stanza had been the speed of the third movement.
Heard sapphire flutings. The winter will end. I remember You.
The sky was red. My pillow’s cold & blanched.
There are no fair bells in this city. This fireless house
lies down at Your disposal as usual! Amen!
The sentences consist primarily of subjects, verbs, and small predicates. The tense shifts cause moments of poetic fugue (in the psychiatric sense). The first line moves from past to future to present, but what carries a reader across the cavernous silences between the period and the next capital letter? From “flutings” to “winter” to “You” the method of travel does not reveal itself. The next few sentences place the self more clearly in a particular environment, without increasing the speed of the line. Here the poem maintains the validity of the title. “The sky was red,” as at dusk, as though the poet remembers the evening in winter before he came to this canonical hour. And his pillow is “cold & blanched” so he is in or near, or feeling close to, his bedroom and his bed, though his bed is empty–a cold pillow, untouched.
About the last lines of “Compline” I can say that they are true to the poem and to “Opus Dei” and that the poet’s doubt remains unresolved. The beauty and pain in them speak more succinctly than anything I might say about them. They are incredibly powerful. For a city to have no bells, no church bells ringing, or clock towers chiming, means a city where time and humanity have lost each other. The poet has no place to situate himself among other beings. Donne offers: “As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness” (102), which I apply to Berryman’s final lines of “Opus Dei.” If there is nothing calling to the poet, do his words answer anything, engage anything in dialectic, imagination, discourse, or conversation? So the “house,” the body of the poet, the psyche of the poet, is “fireless”; what doubt and despair have done to the voice of the poet.
The voice of “Despair,” “Matins,” “Sext,” and “Compline” consistently pulses in the realm of prayer, sometimes ripping through ideas so quickly the poet loses pieces of himself before he can stop them from tearing away, sometimes slowing to a nearly halting heartbeat. Berryman is “so near the door.” The door is faith, and the door is death. I don’t know if to resolve doubt would be to walk through the door, or to close it.
Berryman, John. “Compline.” “Despair.” “Matins.” “Sext.” John Berryman Collected Poems 1937-1971. Ed. Charles Thornbury. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1989.
“Big Old Stars Don’t Die Alone.” Goddard Space Flight Center Top Story Page. 5 Jan. 2004
Donne, John. Devotions upon Emergent Occasions. Devotions upon Emergent Occasions and Death’s Duel. Eds. John F. Thornton and Susan B. Varenne. New York: Vintage Spiritual Classics, 1999. 1-152.
Glück, Louise. “ Matins.” “Matins.” The Wild Iris. New York: The Ecco Press, 1992. 3, 12.
Kierkegaard, Søren. The Sickness unto Death. Trans. Alastair Hannay. New York: Penguin, 1989.
Hello! I am still here and kind of did not notice that I have neglected to blog for two months – for many reasons. I have various updates on Eli, Eli’s fly boots, Eli’s preternatural ability to get randomly injured, Eli’s tack, and Eli’s mommy’s (yes, me) recent realization that is it VERY IMPORTANT to leave work at work and forget about work while interacting with Eli. So that’s where the title of this post comes from – me recognizing I need to be peaceful while approaching Eli if I expect Eli to be peaceful while approaching me. This makes it sound like something dramatic happened but I really just had one exhausting day at work and failed to check my stress at the barn door. Fortunately, I realized this and dismounted and came back the next day with renewed calm and Eli was – magically? no. Responsively. – calm. So I’ll get to that more later in this post.
Moving on to the meats of this update! Eli is doing well. Eating well. Playing in turnout as the weather allows (which omg I think it rained every day in May
and now all week we are getting rain which is super weird for July in Texas but climate change and such, so … ). Going well under saddle if I have my head screwed on straight … and when is THAT never the case for any horse & rider?
Okay, so, Eli’s fly boots: I sucked it up and bought a pricey set of the Shoofly fly boots. Although are they really that pricey if you get 4 to a set? I have never bought fly boots before so I genuinely don’t know and did not research other options since basically everyone recommends these.
At the time of purchase, I was having a difficult time tracking down a blue set in size medium for Eli. So he got orange. I do like orange but wow, these would not be difficult to find if he took them off in turnout somehow. More importantly, they work. Which I am surprised about, because what stops flies from landing above the boots and crawling down the legs? Sorcery? I don’t get it. But they work! Eli’s farrier agreed that they are helping a ton with the condition of his front feet. No stomping = no cracking. He wears them almost all the time, just not when I ride him.
Oh! Before we get to Eli’s random injury of the day/week/month, I did have to get new tall boots. Okay, maybe did not have to, but. I broke the zipper on my Salentos. I mean. I really did a number on it. I zipped a boot sock into it and it took me a really long time to get the sock all the way out of the zipper, all while Eli started at me, tacked up, wondering why no cookie, no bridle, no mommy attention. I gave up and rode in the Dublin river boots and I don’t know how people do that on a regular basis. The sock and zipper suffered complete shredding annihilation. I can get into my black Ego7s as long as I am wearing thin thin thin riding tights. But even so they are snuuuuuuuug.
My orange Deniros need new zippers. Now the Salentos need new zippers. My brown Deniros are too precious for daily use. I need another option. So I ordered brown Ego7s from Equizone (highly recommend Equizone if you are not averse to ordering stuff from Europe) and can now wear breeches again. Yay.
On to Eli’s injuries. A number of weeks ago now, I came out to the barn and Eli’s back legs were a bit chewed up and swollen. He had tiny scrapes all over below the hock on both hinds, and random areas of localized swelling. I have no idea what he did and it doesn’t really matter because horses do random shit to themselves so I may as well treat and move on. I “iced” a lot with the Incrediwear circulation wraps and didn’t ride for a few days, mostly from the rain. Kept icing, rode at just a walk for a few days until all the swelling was mostly gone. He seems fine now. I did try to put the Incrediwear standing wraps on him one night, but he managed to take one off and generally doesn’t like things on his hind legs so I stuck with just the icing after that. And liberal amounts of Sore No More Gelotion.
Now for Eli’s tack: I have switched things up a little bit.
Another thing I ordered from Equizone a long while back is a Trust elliptical sweet iron dee. I like it. I think Eli likes it. Mostly I’ll still ride him in the Dynamic RS but I know he enjoys sweet iron so I wanted that option.
I noticed a few months ago that my saddle developed a squeak (ugh, probably a loose rivet, yuck). Could it be the humidity? Maybe. I also noticed Eli seemed a bit irritated near the top of his shoulder (only under saddle, not really all the time or anything). I started suspecting that his alfalfa bod, my saddle, and the Ogilvy half pad were a less than optimum combination. I swapped the Oglivy for the Thinline, got some Back on Track Mathilde pads, the weather dried out and my saddle stopped squeaking and Eli seemed more comfortable under saddle. It’s weird – it’s like the Ogilvy is just too thick and also slightly unstable. I don’t know why I suddenly experienced all this at once, but luckily I already had the Thinline and everything is working for now. I do wonder if Eli would be better in a different saddle, but due to a particular situation at work which, yes, I will get into in a minute, I am reluctant to spend much money on anything right now if what we have is serviceable already. Which it seems to be.
So yeah, Eli’s tack set up is sufficient for now. My stirrups and stirrup leathers needed a bit of an update, though. I picked up some TSF stability leathers in the Riding Warehouse Memorial Day sale and I don’t know if I like them or not. I have yet to pull the trigger on any new irons. Again, trying not to spend money. To which you may respond, but you got a Trust bit and new boots … ??? Yes, well, those things happened before a particular work thing happened and I had not been concerned about that particular work thing happening for real because of reasons one might characterize as “separation of powers.”
On to the job stuff … I am, along with a couple thousand other people, in a situation that is very fluid but could still possibly end in not getting paid after September 1. Otherwise I would be saddle shopping. This is an interesting situation that has changed my attitude about my current job. I mean. I am a librarian, a public employee. I expect any job to come with some stress but I am now faced with A LOT of stress, much more than I would expect as a librarian. Books do not cause me stress so wtf. On one hand I am completely fascinated by the entire situation because I am a law nerd and a political junkie. On the other hand, I have to eat and put gas in my car and take care of my animals, so it’s a bit of a mess. If you are a law nerd like me you can follow the case.
As a result of this political Gordian knot at work, I had a stupid exhausting day earlier this week and came out to the barn with nothing but anger in me. Eli picked up on it immediately. I did tack up, and did get on, and walked around for a minute, but realized I was not in a mental state that was fair to Eli. I dismounted and felt defeated at not being able to control my emotions over stuff that I normally never even think about while I’m at the barn. But later at home I ran across a couple of posts – one from Warwick Schiller and one from Denny Emerson, both making very strong cases for staying calm around the horse if you want a calm horse to ride. I felt less lousy about dismounting so quickly.
The following day, I got to work from home (we are still hybrid right now at work) and took a lot of breaks, drank a lot of water. Bill filing started up at work and I do truly enjoy indexing legislation so that helped to have my favorite work task. I put on some labradorite bead bracelets (placebo effect is still an effect) before heading out to go ride. Eli nickered at me as always when I walked into the barn and I was much better able to leave stupid work at work and brought peace and happiness up to Eli as I got him out of his stall. And what a difference attitude can make. He was a perfect gentleman under saddle. He was cuddly on the ground. Cuddly! Him! So yeah, if you want a calm, happy horse, you gotta be calm and happy, even if it’s a difficult thing to do under whatever circumstances you might be in. You CAN control whether or not you are calm and happy around your horse. And it makes a huge difference! “Immersed in a cocoon of serenity” comes from the Denny Emerson post and it struck me as a slightly dramatic but very wise way of describing how a calm, centered, serene rider produces a calm, centered, serene horse.
Conrad will be back on the blog soon, too, and he has just as many updates! Blogging helps me track events for both Eli and Conrad, so I hope to get back to it more regularly. There are few affiliate links in this post, too, so if you feel like doing a little shopping through them I’d be very appreciative – I prefer to be proactive about my current income quandary 🙂
Eli was re-scoped recently, and while he was at the vet clinic he also got his spring vaccinations, a Coggins, and I asked for front hoof xrays as it had been a … while.
The scope? Ulcers about 50% improved. He is going to continue Gastrogard & misoprostol, and his vet added in sucralfate. He has also been on platinum Performance GI for a few weeks now and is eating well.
The front hoof xrays? Eli’s vet said they looked very good, and that is all I need to hear! His feet are balanced, and he has about 11mm of sole on each, which is about a 3mm improvement from the last images. I am thrilled!
I am also a proud pony momma because on Tuesday an instructor commented that Eli looked great under saddle as I was trotting around. Dare I hope to start riding this horse in the Sunday group lesson regularly? Maybe? He definitely seems more comfortable all around. I have tried a few Fager bits on him and really like one in particular for him for occasional use on the flat. I have also been riding him in the Back on Track Mathilda AP pad with his Sheepskin Thinline. He seems a bit happier in it than the Ogilvy stuff right now so I’m going with it. The left lead canter is still a bit testy, but when was it ever not if I am honest?
I have also managed to fit back into my Ego7s (!) as long as I wear super thin breeches and thin socks.
Which means I got to take my Salentos in for another minor repair plus a conditioning & polish. Not going to lie, I do miss my Salentos as the DeNiro footbed seems to be nearly a custom fit to my feet (even though they are not custom). My “tan” (they are so oraaaaange — I loff them) DeNiros do need full zip replacement on both, so I will have to send those off. Anyone have any experience with Pacific Saddlery? They are my first choice to ship my boots off for repair. They seem very organized based on the website, anyway.
AND Eli turned 18 on April 6! So happy birthday, Eli — now you can vote!
Perhaps we can all agree the Ides of March have done a number on us all yet again this year? Eli decided to have a little veterinary adventure right around the time change, so instead of me benefiting from more light after work, he got to benefit from two clinic visits.
Poor guy has ulcers again – that’s the short version. But wow, the new facilities at the vet clinic of which he has been a patient for years are really, super, super nice!
I mean, check out this grazing! But anyway, Eli got IV fluids, scoped, sent home, sent back, monitored … he is back home and doing well so far, on a month-long course of medication to clear up the ulcers (hopefully–he’ll be rescoped to confirm this time) and by Friday I will have a few samples of some supplements to try him on. He is now refusing to eat the Purina Outlast. It’s alfalfa pellets, essentially. His regular pellet feed is also essentially alfalfa pellets. I … don’t know why he won’t eat it. I have lots of options and suggestions from his vets, so I know I’ll find something eventually that will work for him.
Luckily we had some warm weather when he got home, so he got a bath and I fixed his out-of-control mane. He dropped a few pounds over the last two weeks, but he is gradually being built back up to his regular diet and he seems to be *much* more comfortable. I know there are like no less than 8,000 different ways people go about trying to treat and prevent ulcers in horses. I’m going to go with listening to his vets and listening to my trainers and I think that’ll be doing the absolute best we all can for Eli. I cannot thank the barn workers, my trainers, and especially his vets enough for all they have done for Eli!