Main Entry: sot·to vo·ce

Pronunciation: "sä-tO-'vO-chE
Function: adverb or adjective
Etymology: Italian sottovoce, literally, under the voice
1 : under the breath : in an undertone; also : in a private manner
2 : very softly -- used as a direction in music

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Posted by Hello

dancing in the dark | an open letter

Dear ....

Recently, I was thinking about that stupid film Unfaithful, with the annoying Diane Lane and her oh-so-suburban affair with a younger man and how it leads to, poor Richard Gere who played her husband, killing the guy with, of all things, a snow globe.
It wasn't the film really, it was a line from a book that is read in the film and it said, "This moment is your life."

I keep coming back to this, because although it seems trite, it brings to mind other lines, particularly John Lennon, "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans..." and how very much those lines struck me when I was still very young and now, at my ripe old age, how they strike me more. >>>More.

Monday, October 25, 2004

all soul's day | a brief history of halloween

The history of Halloween is a long and complicated one, and I will attempt to put it together for us here so that we may come upon this Halloween or All Souls Day with a renewed perspective and respect for this once solemn Pagan and Christian holiday that originally went back to the Druids and the ancient Romans. Note that the Druidic tradition was an oral tradition and the Druids did not write down their history and so it was left to the Romans to do so; what the Romans gave us is not entirely to be trusted for this reason for surely they had some agenda of their own and wanted to promote their own gods and belief systems. >>>More, on

all the rage in Paris | muslim headgear banned at school and the fallout

Recently, France banned the wearing of supposedly all religious headgear in classrooms in Paris, where it hit especially hard with yes, Jewish students, but more than this, with Muslim students, many of whom felt that they in particular had been targeted by this new law that banned the wearing of religious jewelry and other items that could identify you as “different” – read, “not Catholic”.>>> More

this article orginarlly appeared at

Sunday, October 24, 2004

control alt delete | system reboot

oh, to survive office politics and a shitty economy and come out the other side. Read "I don't look so good from a distance, but i tell you i'm the one..." >>>More.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

ripe | audio poem

this is an audio post - click to play

Monday, October 18, 2004

imagine | audio poem

this is an audio post - click to play

memorial | new york city | 2004

mp and srp getting ready for fk's memorial nyc, october, 2004

This week, we made the long trip to New York City to attend the memorial service of a friend and our editor that one of us anyway, had known for quite a long time and the other, for not so long but had some sense of him from our work together. Both of us had worked with Fred over the course of only a year for one, and many for the other, but he had become to each of us a kind of mentor, and certainly a mentor any writer who was interested in, or mired in the subject of biography, for this was Fred's stock and trade, and one in which we too had dealt or were dealing.

Fred was a great writer and editor and more, he was a great person by all accounts; known in his profession, widely respected as a teacher and writerauthor and known to each of us for we had both contributed to his series, Biography and Source Studies, which came out in different volumes (the last with both of us was Volume 5, editor, Fred Karl and the one to which both my husband and I had the pleasure of contributing our respective views on the art of biography.

I had never met Fred, but despite that, I felt I knew him through our work and so the drive to his service in New York was not a hardship. It was a simple way to pay honor to a man who had been kind to me and smart and had been good enough to ask for my contribution to his esteemed series even when I didn’t think I deserved the accolade. Nonetheless, Fred worked with me, honing the piece and insisting on my contribution, which after months of work was finally in good enough shape and was published. As far as I know, this volume was the last that Fred published before he died and I am honored to be included in such a series with other writers far more talented and widely published than I.

The trip to New York City was longer than expected, the traffic awful, the traffic jam that held us at the tunnel in Boston for over an hour. It was not an easy journey by any stretch, yet still, we were glad to make it for Fred, because we felt it was important to his family and more, we wanted to pay our respects. We packed our blacks, our darkest clothes, we prepared the car and we made our way through the day and arrived just in time to shower and get ready before heading to the service. I also documented the trip with a camera so that we would always remember, the way I document many things with my camera because time passes too quickly and by God, I want to remember and even more vain perhaps, I hope to be remembered the way I see others are; as a good person, as an accomplished person; and as someone who most of all, was loving and even more important perhaps to the insecure among us, lovable. We set out into the New York afternoon and made a path through Washington Square Park to the hall where Fred’s service was to be held.

One is never sure what to expect at such events. Will there be much weeping as I have witnessed, or it will it be like an Irish wake with much laughter and people telling stories of the recent past and regaling us with jokes and humorous anecdotes. As fitting, it was neither. We gathered, about a hundred or so of us, or just shy, in a room off of New York University and one by one, various eulogists spoke of Fred. They were as diverse as he himself was and each had a different side of Fred that they conveyed – the grandchildren spoke of baseball and transatlantic phone calls to get the Yankees score, of Fred’s dislike of the Yanks, of the way he would hide Hershey’s kisses in his beard. The adults, as fitting, more solemn, and spoke of his teaching, his organization, his love of his work, and of course, his friends and family – his lovely daughters – who in groups and one by one told of a man who was frail and small in size but large in personality and who gave to the world as much as he possibly could, always working on more than one book at a time and writing some of the greatest biographies of our time on Kafka, Joseph Conrad and other figures who, in many ways, were no more Fred’s superior but his equal in many ways. A great biographer for a great subject, and he wrote his books and achieved his measure of fame and renown and Fred was known and respected as one of the best and most important, if such words apply, writers and biographers of our time.

But this is not what touched me. Of course, the thing that strikes the most at such events is how very short a life is, how fragile and how brief. We move through it as if we have all the time in the world. At twenty we are invincible, at thirty we are still young, at forty we begin to see commercials for our gray hair and vitamins made just for us, and by our mid forties or even earlier now, we begin to see the depressing commercials about life insurance that states “if you were born between the years 1946 and 1966” and then it strikes you that for as young and hip as you were or used to be or think you still are, for as young as you feel and for as much as it feels like yesterday that you were getting carded at clubs in NY and carded for cigarettes and being told you are “too young” for all sorts of things, you are now almost too old. That you work with people who were born the year you graduated from college, which is astounding to think about. It means you are getting older, and like our Fred, you are nearing that time when your time will be up and somewhere, some day, you pray that there will be those who will honor you in such a way that brings out the very best parts of you and your successes the way I saw so many stand up and do for Fred. He was honored, he was loved, but he was gone, and it seemed to me as I sat there that it was so unfair that his life had been so short. Never mind that he was surely in his seventies or perhaps even eighties (I’m honestly not sure), he still seemed too young, the way I feel too young to have to worry about life insurance or worse, losing my own husband. I always say that I must die first – I must be the first to go, because I could not stand it to live in the world without him.

The same holds true of my friends; I must be the first to die and conquer, if it exists, the brave new world of the afterlife because I am too afraid to be left in this world by myself. Chalk it up to fear of abandonment, but I cannot face this life alone, yet my fear of death, strong as it is, is no match for sitting as I saw Fred’s beautiful but deeply sorrowful wife, at his service. She seemed so alone, so fragile and so strong in her way but just barely masking a fragility that comes of losing someone you love so deeply that life without him or her seems surely impossible.

Yet perhaps the worst part of all is that you life. Most of the time, you live and you go on and the bills still come and you still have to eat and cook for yourself and you have to manage (how I hate the word). You have to “find a way” as they say, when in your previous life with this person alive, the way you found your way was through him or her – only they knew where the slippers were, the remote, the extra blankets. Only they could find the remote, fix the VCR, others tell you everything would be okay (and have you believe them). Only he or she could understand the French subway system, the Metro and now you’re afraid to make a move on your own, unless it was the part of the roof that you held up because without your Other, your partner or other half or whatever you want to call him or her, you are completely and utterly lost. These are the challenges we face after death, and they are perhaps the curse of having loved one person for so long and so deeply that life without that person is agonizing. I watch the mating dance of cranes and I know they mate for life, the way they mimic each other in step and in grace and I wonder, who will know this dance when the other is gone, for one must always go first; rarely do we die together. How lonely will I be when there is no one who can dance in that way with me as well and as knowingly as my own love, who knows me so well that our union, our daily routine, our bed time rituals are implicit, tacit, and a sort of litany or dance or both. When you love, when you love for so long, at the end for al the good there has been the price you pay then is the absence of that good. You can try and dine out on the memories, but it is never the same thing.

As I listened to the eulogists one by one, I held my husband’s hand firmly in my lap and traced the lines of his veins, his crepe-jasmine skin, his light colored hairs, and as I sat there in my black dress I felt blessed that this time I was not the widow and that I hoped I never was; the deal is, as he knows, that I die first. I say it over and over again, because I know that life without him would be unbearable, and besides, I tell him, you are stronger than I am and you’ll survive and you’ll get to go out with all those young girls I see you eye-balling. But, I tell him, if there is a heaven and I go there and then you get remarried on earth and them she dies and goes there and then you die and go there, then you’d better choose me. I will be your heavenly bride. He smiles patiently and says, Of course, darling. Of course I’d choose you, and whether it’s true or not, it is part of our little litany.

This is what I saw – a group of us all trying to be strong and see our way through and tell each other the okays and the yes, we’ll manage and the so on and on and yet underneath it all I knew that there was a greater or lesser part that would not manage. It would be different for each of us, more or less profound, but there nonetheless. In my case, I lose an editor and friend. But rue the day it is my turn or my husband’s turn or my best friend’s turn. God help me should those I love die before I do. I could not stand it, the same way I saw them unable to handle the fear and the loss when cancer almost took my life just a few short years ago and I was still in my early thirties and by measure “young.” On e by one I saw them come to my room, look at me, frail and pale and wounded and missing a third of my leg and laying there on the bed and the mourning had begun. I mourned the lost part of me, the huge part of my calf that was gone (it could have been worse), and they mourned the me that we still did not know would live; Death, at that time, was possible and death is possible even now, today or any day.

Anything I say would be trite, so it will just have to be. Live your life now, and live it as you wish to be eulogized and remembered. If you want to be remembered as a good person, then for fuck’s sake, live as one. If not, then be quiet and stop moaning. To not die is not an option in the final account. In the end, it ends and we all die, but for now, we live and by god, while I still can, I plan to live as much as I can while I can and may I do so that many turn out for my funeral and service and that one by one, each person stands and shares a piece of me that is irreplaceable, ethereal yes, but uniquely me.

May the same be true for you.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

early betrayal | audio poem

this is an audio post - click to play

Early Betrayal

It was surprising how easy,
I was so sure some electric
barrier would bar the others,
reject with spit and spark
a surge I hoped would push
those boys away, though even
you had been disloyal,
casually not thinking of us
your weeping trinity we cried
while you thought only
of yourself. Such treachery
to kiss some other. So
when he said what he would
do I believed I would cry No,
but a thready voice said OK
and it was done, our fate sealed.

I had been your Mary for so long
thumb-twiddling away the time
squandering my beauty as you
turned to some other, a blessed
one in France and put her on your
pedestal. So when he kissed me
again I offered all my fury, raged
against you as if to prove to the
three of us in that bed, for you
were there, that I was the One.

For once I let myself love back
forget about you and when we
touched I closed my eyes and thought
of you touching her and felt
pure hatred and spite and beneath
that just sorrow, a bottomless
sorry that I tried hard to fuck
away. You couldn’t give her up;
not for me, not for anyone. She
was your goddess, the ultimate
idol against all others would be
measured, and I, I came up short.

But when I fell of your pedestal
surprised to find myself being
raised by this other, he with a furious
love of my auburn hair, a perversion
for my freckles. I watched as he
spit-shined my shoes and every
day told me about my beauty.
He offered sustenance; I took it.
I was dying with your love –
emptying instead of filling.
You never saw it. Never believed
anyone could love you so much
that it would hurt to not
be loved back.

Did you believe after that?
or did it drive you farther away,
your perpetual excuse as you flee
to the waiting arms of whomever –
a name that doesn’t matter –
My love never ended. I left him
at last, broken hearted as I was,
I saw the same pain he felt for me
that I still felt for you and my soul
cried out like the Phoenix on fire
She who never knows whether or not
she will ever rise from such ashes.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

visit poems on

read The Red Hot Ruby of Youth on More poems by SRP are available from that site.

Monday, October 11, 2004

The devil wears Prada | a review of lauren weisberger's book

It was almost inevitable that I would pick up the books The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger.

It must be that I worked in that world, the world that they write of, which is fashion, and in particular, New York fashion. For several years, every summer I would leave my job in Boston and my university and head to Manhattan to what was, at the time for what I did, one of the most enviable jobs in the industry. I was what they called a “rover” at the dark and ominous and smoked glass and ever-so sleek and sexy 350 Madison Avenue, home of Conde Nast Publications. It was the building that held the secrets of what next year’s look was going to be. It held Vogue, Mademoiselle, GQ, not to mention almost any other magazine you can name that isn’t owned by Hearst (they own Cosmopolitan and other such publications – the ‘other’ Conde Nast in some ways, but with a different aesthetic altogether; not quite as highbrow in some ways.). >>>

Thursday, October 07, 2004

exposure | a history of bleach

For years I’ve been a huge fan of bleach. And I mean bleach for everything – I’ll bleach the bathroom clean, the kitchen countertops, the floors, even if they’re wood, my hair, the bathtub, laundry; you name it, I bleach it. >>>More.

this article first appeared on

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

house painting in october

this is an audio post - click to play

Listen to all three audio poems from this October. For text for this poem, visit tant mieux, New & Selected Poems (link below).

For more poetry, or, visit our sister site, tant mieux at and read Poems & Chants from Paris, and New & Selected. You can also visit other sotto voce sites from the Links area.


in your absence | audio poem

this is an audio post - click to play

The milk is back. As in Paris,
I am filling again with something
that must be sweet, good.
I find it as I drive, the highway
blurring, the speedometer
pricking ninety-five, the
wetness there. This time, you are
gone. I cannot speak or write
of love between us. does it bridge
such distance, love? I feel it
but know that our elastic band
can only stretch so far. Hadn’t
you once said it had broken?
By some awful miracle, we had
lost that thing that bound us
and found ourselves alone, walking
wounded, zombified by grief
the dark, swollen eyes of the lost.

I am nothing without you.
We say it is wrong to need,
to have to have, as if in having
or needing there were a choice
as if any man were truly an island.
I am an isthmus, sea crashing
on three sides, she throws her
grey silks, sucks hard and rough
leaves me raw and dizzied.

The land will not let her have me.
It has attached, the way you
put your arms on my waist
hold me firm in a gale. Your hard
ness pressing. I am all want
This is need.
Without you, I am the sea’s dark
mermaid, asleep in a fossil-curl
waiting for the risen tide,
the waves to lick, the sleep to calm.

at last | audio poem

this is an audio post - click to play

The woman is blank. Flattened.
There is no softness here.
She is defeated. Quietly,
She moves to the white
sheet. Her lids slide shut.
Behind there is nothing;
just shattered green,
shattered green

Dreams are for fools, for young.
There is no child suckling,
no husband petting.
Nobody will want such clarity.
She is ice that burns the tongue
Her edges slice cleanly
a blade that sinks to a tomato
the line of it even and straight
the juice beading and seeping
a straight line of grief.

Everything is in order.
The dishes washed
The laundry folded.
papers organized,.
Nothing is left undone.
She is ice cold and perfect;
silent as a statue.
The crowd applauds, pleased.
They got their money’s worth.

Monday, October 04, 2004

those things of which we do not speak

The questions which
you say mean nothing that
I know mean everything.
You tend to me the way
a lion tends to his females
always needing to know
where one is in order that
he may be with some other.

If then my hours are thus
knowing i will be suitably
occupied you are then free
to do those things which
we know you do, but that
you insist you do not do
because time does not

Such practical
matter it be, then where
I am provides guarantee
of hours unfettered, the
morning greys, blocked days
routine created, allowing
promise to take that thing
that you say is not
there, but find anyway:

You then, able to take
to some other, who,
in the hours now emptied
for she of whom
we do not speak explicitly
because to do so would
be too explicit, though
it is, of course, implicit.

You know that I know
and I know that
you know. Game in which
I am to pretend to
believe though, now,
we acknowledge a lie. Still,
my silence is tacit, as if
I created this
routine in order that
another may find another.
Fall to one and do such
things of which
we do not speak.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

to be young | going live!

I’m trying to remember what it was to be just young, just beginning to understands the ways of the heart and the body, more to the point. the first stirrings of desire that one feels as an early teen, if not sooner, and you find yourself reaching for classmates and finding yourself in cut-class sticky fumblings and sweet summer fields and those landscapes that lay beyond the closed doors of your parent’s house, because it’s all you’ve got and you’ll take it because what you feel is hunger.>>>MORE

Saturday, October 02, 2004

tant mieux featured on SquareSpace

tant mieux

tant mieux, sister site of sotto voce, has been selected by SquareSpace as a featured site. See the feature by clicking here.
To visit tant mieux click here.

Friday, October 01, 2004

all tomorrow's predictions

I’m not the type to read my daily horoscope or put too much stock in my astrological sign and forecast (though that said, I will say that reading it I find it to be disconcertingly accurate, which I ascribe to sweeping generalizations that could be true of everybody, such comments as “you are neat and organized and a real go-getter.” Who doesn’t want to believe this of themselves? I could real Libra and find things there too an certainly in Scorpio I find a lot of things that could likewise apply (you are a deeply passionate person, a terrific lover” - okay, that last may not be entirely true,

but the point is, who doesn’t want to believe that? more>>>>