Sleeping in a Bed of Incense

Oh someone is breathing down my back again.  Sending icy chills down my spine.   I can feel them even in my stomach, lungs and heart.  What’s left.

This dark dark week when I feel like I’ve already been sent to my coffin.  There I am in the dark with no escape in sight.   The air even, doesn’t matter anymore.

Yet here I am still playing with words, grammar, syntax.  As though that meant something.  Like leather pants in Berlin when my father died.  Fashion, like you, seemed important then.

The water outside is still running, down the half-frozen lawn, in rivulets around the newly planted cypress.. a golden one, shimmering a bit with chartreuse highlights…… that I planted too late.   I wonder if it will survive.  I wonder if I will see it sometime this April or May, when things will either be done or undone.

I am still awake and the coffee cup is on the desk and the coffee is getting cold and what?  I still taste and see and feel and worry.   About your father, my aunt, the last of the dear ones, the happy ones, the great ones… and my fallen friend so far away from me now.

I see her apple trees, her newly planted garden, smell the corn pudding she is making… see her white white teeth, so straight so almost big, so fine. All of them shaped exactly the same, like in that Philip K. Dick novel.    That perfectly red mouth without lipstick…. tiny crinkled nose… always crinkled because she is always smiling…… those big white teeth are like big white stars.. if stars were white.  You might start a new trend my darling.

What do you do when there is a triumvirate of sorrow, who do you mourn, who do you call, whose hand do you clutch, what tears do you turn on and off on and off… I had to look it up that word and this word and that word and this word and realize English is no longer my language.  Nor Spanish… Ukrainian.  I have no language anymore and soon will not speak.   I cannot speak.  I do not know sign language.  I no longer play music– sound bothers me.   I like almost no one.  I love almost no one.  No, nothing.  I like nothing.  I love nothing.  Because there seems to be nothing.  Because I cannot speak and cannot think or feel.

The sounds  are intolerable.  Door bell.   Phone, the one that still rings like a bell.  Iphone.   Knocking.  Tapping.  Buzzing.  Tings. Bings.   Needles zizzling on papers.  Wheels on gravel driveway.  Alarms for fire gas or electricity.  Sirens.  Ovens.  Microwaves.   Neighbors taking in garbage cans.  Garage doors opening and closing.  Mailboxes.  Mailman, when he stops suddenly to read something on the doorstep.  I can almost hear his breath, his sighs, hear his footsteps on the icy steps, the crunchy grass…. Dryer.  Washers.  Furnace.  That thing is humming louder and louder these days and is about to explode.   Fire drills.  They still have them Tuesdays across the street.  Garbage truck.  Banging on the door. Glass storms.  The idiots who don’t think a doorbell is enough.  Sometimes they have a dried little chocolate cake to give me and if I don’t answer the bell, they bang and bang until I open the door.

I saw that little pound cake the other day, still swaddled in the saran wrap. A few days after your funeral.  Oh how I wanted something sweet, luscious and moist and chocolatey.  Very deeply sweetly rich  and, almost, just almost, slightly pudding like just very very slightly mind you… like the sumptuous cakes that cook created in those far away kitchens in Victorian England.  The “Upstairs Downstairs”  kind of cakes like my mother made.  I cut a slice quickly and shoved it into my mouth… dry, powdery, sweetless, saltless, moistless, denseless, sandlike gluten free misery…..made by those cute little girls supervised by a mother who knows nothing about cakes…… oh I hope they never knock on my door again!

And then I called you yesterday, my friend, who I have not seen in a thousand years because really I think I have already lived two.  Wishing you a happy birthday… You said you were cleaning and washing your hair.   Cleaning is good.  I have cleaned this house often lately as though knowing that soon someone would not be here,  strangers will walk through it, and I fear they will not remove their shoes.

Shoes.  Suddenly I no longer want shoes.  I want to feel the icy floors beneath my feet.  I wanted to walk on the river yesterday but it was not yet frozen.  It looked black and dirty.  I thought I might see interesting animals or birds or even a ragged branch with leaves trailing down into the water like last year.

No, even the river is hiding its charms.  Its denizens long gone.  It only sends icy chills up to me, while I stand there on the bridge and I am searching searching… That bicycle is still there.  The one I saw seemingly floating in the water.  A red white and blue bike. What an ugly trio……  I never saw a bike in the water before and wondered how it got there.  There was no person floating along…  Just an old rusty basket with a collection of dead leaves, and the bicycle emerges and disappears depending on the weather. That big American Flag is still flying outside the antique store on the corner and lately when I walk by, I slap it.  It’s so big and wide, hanging so low, down almost to the ground, and often hits me in the face when I walk by. It seems to be taunting me… daring me to walk by.  So I slap it first.

I don’t know how anymore to get through the nights.  The fear of phones ringing doors banging door bells and cell phones and texts and emails running down the screens like ragged tears ragged fears all my anxiety tangled up in languages I don’t speak or read or understand anymore.

I ran out in my summer sandals and moved the sump pump hose further down the lawn, that thing is gushing again pumping out water for days and days and the whole house is shaking again.   What does it want, this house?  What is it finally telling me?  When will the infernal banging and clanging and animals thrashing against the door end?

Why is the night so long now?  Why is the day full of the same?  Why is there no more sleep and why is it so hard to breathe?

Your voice suddenly got all garbled and tangled up like soggy ropes and then it was thick and low, gurgling like a dying monster.  I thought maybe your teeth fell out.   I remember once when we were in college and waiting tables for that animal, your teeth fell out.   Just as you were waiting on that rabble of leering men who always called you their beautiful stallion.  You had to rush to the back covering your mouth and it was a long time before you came back.  Then you resumed taking their orders.  They always wanted that disgusting fake sweet and sour borscht.  It must have had a pound of sugar in it. Made by that bulbous, sweaty, foul-mouthed cook in the dirty t-shirts.  Years later I still smell the stink of him, his face, his mouth, his words….  You kept talking to me as though everything was normal as though I actually heard you, heard a human voice and I kept asking what was wrong with your phone because you sounded like that child in the “Exorcist”.  It was raining you said, and the phone never works in the rain.

I left you to wash your hair and wish I could do something simple like wash clean vacuum sweep cook or sleep.  Oh how I just want to go to sleep sleep sleep.

I tried dreaming of lilacs, meadows,  clean sheets,  spring flowers… the bulbs I planted.. food, all the delicious things we will eat tomorrow when you arrive full of hope and fun and what what what?   I barely know you barely know anyone anymore barely know the day from night the summer from winter from fall.  Don’t recognize the rivers or lakes my street that I walk on what is this?  Why is it so ugly here?

The sea of cars finally have done me in and I want to crush them with my hands seer them with my eyes watch them explode from the face of the earth, the universe… like land mines……

I want to go out into the half-frozen garden and plant a thousand trees and shrubs. Very tall and very wide. Every kind of tree and evergreens pines junipers cedars …the trees that will cover up everything and everyone and then all I have to do is look at the sky…

I feel you there one state away… I feel you there two countries away  I feel you there 2,000 miles away and only if only you could walk with me now on the frozen river feel how nice and cool it feels on your feet how smooth how you can glide  far away far away from all this sorrow.

I can’t sleep I can’ sleep ..  I am so afraid

The last time I was so afraid was when you got lost and missed your plane and we didn’t hear from you for days and then some angels were here, and they held my hands and we prayed and prayed and prayed and then they had to leave to get some rest and I was alone here in these rooms oh where oh where do I go and what do I do?  I was tired of clutching my throat tearing out my hair eating up my eyes and I went upstairs and found that little carved Jesus the one with the heavy lids covering his eyes, just the right size to put in my hand and hold there.  The wood very old and hard and yet, almost supple.  The carver had made the features very carefully so that it was sad but not too sad, old but still young, strong yet frail.   I remember clutching it, that little man from Oaxaca that you gave me my friend, and found there my little saviour my Balm of Gilead my Ambien my morphine my opium my steaming cup of kindness my salve for my tired wide awake burning eyes.

I grabbed that little statue once again,  like I did last year, and held it tight and went to bed and prayed and prayed  for I don’t know what anymore.  Sleep, death, forgetting, vacuum, emptiness, no eyes in the sockets, no head on my feet…..And I woke early in the morning still holding it, noticed something different about the room, a great calming silence filled the air. The light had not come in yet but there was a very faint fragrance like old wood, dried Christmas trees still faintly chiming, the old ornaments slightly moving as though someone breathing lightly somewhere in this room, making the tired needles fall on the old carpet shedding their fragrant tears… sweet smoke, mysterious perfumes of cedar, bergamot and dying leaves, ashes and tears, screams of pain, and sourness the kind that comes from fear and sorrow and the worst kind of anguish…And I looked at the face that I was holding, wondering how I managed to hold it all night long and the fragrance of the room was still floating all around me and the sad and sorrowful wooden face was no longer sad and sorrowful.

I held it in my hands for a long time and lifted it up to my face to capture that sad and sweet elusive fragrance, something so far away and yet very near like the scents still clinging to the bottles of Shalimar, Caleche, Mitsouko… all of them swirling around the room still breathing through the glass and they mingled with the scents of the candle downstairs still burning, the pine centerpiece still exhaling, scents of old forests dying, and I heard my own breath moving in and out of my lungs quietly but surely still exhaling, and still I wonder and wonder and wonder like someone looking up at the far away galaxies and wondering about those stars how high up how strange how beautiful how exciting they all are… how I still want to see them there up high, when I walk out at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., my favorite time now the dead of night, when everything beautiful is awake and breathing and the sky out there even is crying sighing and what what can I do looking here at this face that someone carved for me years, or was it decades ago?  Words again fail me, thoughts, words, desires of saying something… all of it fails and fails and fails and the only thing left at all is to clutch this face look at these almost bulging lids closed in sweet but terrible repose, filling up but holding back so many tears and tears and tears and wait, just wait for the great release the great escape the great final exhalation of air that one day will quiet all of this turmoil this evil this greed this final corruption that is drowning each and everyone one of us, each and every thing of us, until the day we understand, truly understand the meaning of those tears.




























About O

I live in a suburb of an American City. I write to try and understand myself and the world around me. I love nature, art, music, literature and beauty in all its forms. I love food. But then food is a whole other world.... I think the world has gone mad and many of us will soon go insane from living in this world. What I love almost more than anything is my garden. I love its trees its shrubs and its many flowers. I love the birds, their flying and singing and dancing movements in and out of the sky and garden. Their freedom. I could watch birds all day long. They always bring joy. I love to work in my garden. To get muddy and dirty, digging, weeding, mowing, pruning and deadheading. Then, I like to have a cool glass of white wine or red, or sometimes a Manhattan, and drink in hand, I walk around and look at the fruits of my labor. And that walk each and every day in my little paradise.. because that is what gardens are.... brings me almost complete joy... My blog is whennothingworks because for a long time nothing has worked. Friends, family, jobs, money, houses, careers, lovers, things--- it all just doesn't work sometimes, or most of the time. The garden always works. Nature and its beauty always work. And, in my garden, I can sit quietly and think, or just breathe, and somehow manage to survive the world.
This entry was posted in Bus Stop Stories, Eating, Drinking, Cooking, Food for the Sick the Tired and the Lonely, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Sleeping in a Bed of Incense

  1. Olga, the mark of a real writer is creating a testament, bearing witness, no matter what…and that is what you do so well. Your clarity of observation is remarkable, your phrasing apt: a triumvirate of sorrow, the miserable little pound cake, the flag you slap (that image made me laugh out loud–brilliant–perfectly captures our very human gestures of resistance–life as performance art)…the dead of night when everything beautiful is awake and breathing (did you see the Blood Moon? I ran outside in my stockings and watched and watched this stunning drama that the ancients knew and felt as though they were holding my hands as we stood, transfixed, in the bitter cold as the moon turned red, and its diamond gleam flashed then disappeared altogether, then reappeared amid the branches of my old American elm). Keep writing, keep describing please…you are a gem.


    • O says:

      Dear Martha,

      Thank you for taking the time from your very busy life to read my blog. I truly appreciate your time, your very kind comments, your encouragement, and the precious gift of your friendship. And not the least,your very very engaging, vivid description of viewing the blood moon.


      On Fri, Jan 25, 2019 at 12:58 PM whennothingworks wrote:



  2. ladycee says:

    Dear O,
    Once again words fail me. They fail me because I don’t have the right words at this moment to describe how blessed I am by your ability to express your heart in such a creative and moving way. Words fail me because as I read, I sensed an awful sadness comes over me, plus guilt because although you have often been on my heart, I did not make the time to check in with you before now, to see how you are. Forgive me dear friend.
    Keep writing, keep reaching out to God/Jesus and may the fragrance and peace of his healing presence fill your heart and home.
    He cares. He loves. He knows.


    • O says:

      Dear ladycee,

      What a delight to hear from you! Once again I remind you that your timing… is uncanny. For that I now have no words. You have often been on my mind also and I am sorry I have not checked in. Please do not feel sad or any guilt. Your message yesterday came during a week that started out in chaos and strange and troublesome incidents… but ended in joy.

      I hope you and your family are well and happy.



  3. Like!! Thank you for publishing this awesome article.


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