Friday, March 31, 2006

There's gonna be a whole lot of testifying.

I saw a play tonight, and all I can say is what I said to a student of mine who ended up sitting near me: that playwright is no George Eliot. At least we got a good laugh out of the proceedings. Tonight's title comes from one of the more ridiculous sequences through which I sat--though not from the sequence wherein everyone in the audience giggled and then howled at everything, even though (I think) the scene was supposed to be dramatic, not comic. It really, really wasn't the actors. It was just the material, which was mostly ridiculous.

My writing has been painfully spare of late, in part because of some happy duties to which I'm attending this weekend, caring for others' furry beasties. But here is some of today's quiet riot of Ohioan early spring.

This morning, walking along, singing to the dogs I was walking (I chant them their names as we click along), I heard a tree in the wind sound like a creaking floorboard. (I'm cheating a little. This picture is from the end of the day, but by then the trees were swaying and rushing and creaking again.)

One of my dearest friends was so overjoyed by the blooming of these little blue and white flowers that during lunch he kept thanking another friend for them, since she supplies him with them every year (they don't grow in his lawn).

Once again today, I spent much of my time staring up into trees not unlike this one, trying to stay patient long enough to see a singing bird. (Do you see him?) (Here's a hint: if you click the picture, you'll get its full, enormous version, and you'll have better luck.)

For much of the day, walking the roads was like stepping amongst ancient mirrors, stalking a rippling sky.

I've been wanting to photograph this roofline for days, and from my office this afternoon I could see these buds' cumulative red. I suspect that you may not be able to see the red even in the enlarged version of this image, because of the gathering and overcast dusk.

And today not only the local daffodils but also the local forsythia began blooming in full force. A cardinal landed in this bush with the sound of a deck of cards shuffling, just as I was bending backwards to catch this image. I had high hopes of capturing the contrast of yellow and red, but the bird riffled and plunged off through the dusk, red streaking over green in grey half-light, before I was even able to point, much less shoot. (Quel horreur! My brain edited "goldenrod" in for "forsythia" last night. Do not be misled by my amateur botanical discoursing. This bush is forsythia, something that I do know, have known.)

Thursday, March 30, 2006

A day of sun and birdsong.

If your day was as beautiful as our day here--the sun brilliant from start to stop, the starling singing the songs of six birds in the top of the tree (its chest puffing and ruffling to make both the sweetest of sharp notes and the most peculiar of titterytapping sounds), the tiniest daffodils you've ever seen blooming everywhere while the full-sized flowers follow suit--then you should take the time you would have spent reading what I'm not going to write, and you should use that time to remember what you saw.

Today was so lovely that I didn't carry the camera, didn't even want to punctuate the sense of all things by capturing single slices. May I awake in bright light again tomorrow with my arms sprawled on either side of my head and dogs drowsing in the living room, sun-swoozled. This morning, we were all like the babies in sweet pictures.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A slower answer, in four times.

Yesterday, caught:
"I'd like to ask you a slow question," she says to him, making space for something careful, thoughtful, with a gesture generous and wise. And something about the phrase--a slow question--catches in my mind, slips a switch, crawls around a corner and gets to work. The rest of what happens in that room becomes mere murmur and patter, echoing the rain on the roof, backing up swift pen-scratch. And what I've scratched, because of what I've been listening to, what she and others are still asking about (but what I've started drifting away from), is water. Water because of Monday's writing and the memory of being pushed and held, beaten and cradled by a savage and lovely sea. Water because my world has gone wetly grey in the rain, heavier with more weighty greys than I can remember seeing. He has described dark not as absence but as saturation, and I am finding myself saturated with the gathering darkness of water.

Later, dried:
But I'm also saturated with the gathering darkness of absence, absence of energy, of time, of space for stretching and floating to the degree I've now come to expect. I have not had to prioritize around this writing yet, or at least not to prioritize it out of production. But suddenly I am putting up the three images that somehow, though they are neither of water nor about wetness (nor even, for that matter, about slowness or darkness or absence or rain), line up out of Sunday's walks home and request a showing, and I am thinking, I'll fill in the gaps sometime later. But it's midnight. I am saturated with desire, and my desire is for rest. And the bird, over the roof, over the sign: this triptych I can live with. This grouping can slouch out and be slow, demand slowness.

Today, hanging:
To fantasize water, first dream islands. Conjure backward to empty expanse, saturate with everything. The notes age a day, start becoming artifacts. Woolf comes to the rescue--when does she (wise) not rescue?--with Mrs. Ramsay's solitary musings: "beneath it is all dark, it is all spreading, it is unfathomably deep; but now and again we rise to the surface and that is what you see us by." Woolf herself a fish, not unlike Vardaman's mother: the autobiographical sketch shows it (I do not believe life-writing always to be factual, but I do believe it generally to be true). "The person is evidently immensely complicated," she tells us in A Sketch of the Past, written in 1939-40 under threat of German bombs, and part of the complication she means is temporal, is time itself, is the nature of time that leaves her swaying and slipping and silvery: "I could collect a great many more floating incidents.... I dream; I make up pictures of a summer's afternoon.... I see myself as a fish in a stream; deflected; held in place; but cannot describe the stream." I hang. I can do nothing but hang, thought deflected and held in place. I can describe neither myself as fish nor the stream. The notes desiccate.

Tonight, tossed back:
Thomas Hardy mysteriously copies from Ralph Waldo Emerson--why? from where?--in August 1924: "The foolish man wonders at the unusual, but the wise man at the usual." To love water, to sing praises to water, to immerse, be immersed, sink in to soak up: these are not unusual. I may well have nothing new to say. That has never stopped the word-flow before. But it is possible I'll need to recur to Woolf yet again, this time to A Room of One's Own. (If you knew how I'd spent my day, her ubiquity tonight would not surprise.) Woolf's narrator in that lively treatise about women and fiction, about economics and creativity, is musing at (fictional) Oxbridge. She has named herself "Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael, or...any name you please." She is thinking by a river:
Thought—to call it by a prouder name than it deserved—had let its line down into the stream. It swayed, minute after minute, hither and thither among the reflections and the weeds, letting the water lift it and sink it until—you know the little tug—the sudden conglomeration of an idea at the end of one’s line: and then the cautious hauling of it in, and the careful laying of it out? Alas, laid on the grass how small, how insignificant this thought of mine looked; the sort of fish that a good fisherman puts back into the water so that it may grow fatter and be one day worth cooking and eating.
You know the little tug. Well, I do. This thought of mine is no larger than the biting fish whose sharp-toothed jaw my father gave me when I was small. It is not so big as the monstrosity fish (so beloved) in the tanks at the restaurant where we went some Friday nights, early in Indiana. When I was a baby, my mother couldn't keep me from putting my face under the faucet in the bath. But now, now I am tired again: now I see the waters to write about (a fully dressed woman walked out of the water in my morning class): now I cannot face them: now I must sleep until the conglomeration comes again, this time fattened, to feed.

You should know by now not to come here for answers (not quick ones, anyway) is the answer to the question, whether or not it was slow, whether or not this is slower. Be wise enough to love the spread feathers, the slate shingles, the invitation sans serif. They are the usual. They are the wonder.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A slow question.

Monday, March 27, 2006

She tires, writes of water.

You know that my usual practice on Mondays is to give you an image and call it a night. Tonight, I couldn't get images to upload for a little while and decided to give you a wee word picture. And then the images started working again. So now you get both.

When I was ten, we went on a company vacation to the Gulf coast of Alabama. I actually remember feeling surprised to learn that Alabama had a Gulf coast. I'd seen the Atlantic, once that I could remember. The Gulf of Mexico is an entirely different thing. My favorite thing to do, that first summer (we went back for many more), was to put on our cheap swim mask and swim about in the shallows with tiny fish; I have always loved swimming in goggles and masks, because water somehow goes a long way toward helping correct my vision, and so though I was already in steadily thickening glasses by that point, I could see the fish clearly. My other favorite thing to do was to catch the little waves and ride them on my stomach. Occasionally, I mistimed, started up a half-second too late. And then those little waves turned out not to be so little, so gentle. Then, water would pull me under, push me down, hold me there, immobilized. Then, it was too dark, and the sand was too near, and all was too furiously silent, sound rushed away with light, with air, with strength. The water pushing over met the water pulling back; I hung in suspension without the grace of the fishes. And then I could struggle again. And then I could stand again. And then I could see, once again, that I was only ten feet from shore, that the water was only knee-deep. And then I could turn towards putting myself at the waves' perilous mercy again. I was no thrill-seeker, still am no thrill-seeker, and foolhardiness has never been my strong suit either. I suspect that even at ten I knew these were minor league dangers. And that summer, my notions of water's dangers were blissfully, willfully naïve. That summer, it didn't matter to me that I couldn't see my feet when we swam.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

And no one can talk to a horse of course.

After an intense week (and with my work-intense weekend still going on for at least another hour or two), tonight I'm going to give you a break--a bit of what we'll call comic relief. A soon-to-be-Kentuckian friend of mine mentioned in passing this morning that she's planning to take up riding again once she's in her new home, in the heart of bluegrass country. And one of my Brooklyn blogfriends (I love that I have two!) has written movingly about caring for old horses in her youth, about the "dark, decrepit old stable full of geriatric, honorable horses" she eventually left behind.

Myself, I've only had one experience on an actual horse (as opposed to a pony in a ring). It was in Memphis, back in spring 1994, toward the tail end of the only spring break road-trip I ever took (which also involved the only time I ever saw New Orleans). The motley crew with whom I was traveling had stopped off for a few days in Memphis to visit the family of the woman who would become my roommate the next year. She had grown up riding, and so we all piled off to a park where we could hire horses to ride for part of the afternoon. My feelings about this outing were not unlike the feelings I've always harbored for roller coasters. A roller coaster always seems like an excellent idea, in the abstract, and I make a good, determined show of psyching myself up for riding them, but in the face of the thing itself, with all its possibilities of falling (which, you'll recall, is my greatest fear), I panic. Where roller coasters are concerned, this panic has always meant that I've ended up standing at the base of a coaster's huge support pillars, peering up into summer skies to see my friends screaming along, their hands held high or their legs hanging down (depending on the fanciness of the coaster). But where these horses were concerned, I toughed it out--probably because I didn't know how nervous I'd actually be, once I was on my horse. Also, perhaps, because while riding a horse, one doesn't generally go hundreds of feet up in the air and hang upside down and then plunge hundreds of feet down through the air.

We reached the park late in the afternoon, and the horses seemed pretty tired. I don't know from horses, but thinking back on these horses' behavior, I see a lot of myself at the end of a Thursday afternoon in the way they submitted to our mounting them and learning the rudiments of encouraging a horse to walk around. When my horse had me just about as far out as we were going to go, she decided it was time to quit what was supposedly her duty and to start eating whatever was within reach (I do this almost every Thursday at about 5:30 p.m.). We stopped stone still, and she dropped her neck and began munching the high grass and yellowed weeds around us. Her bending forward meant, of course, that I was pitched forward as well. I clung to the pommel and tried to encourage her to start walking again, but to no avail. Eventually, I decided that I probably wasn't going to fall forward over the horse's neck, and so I calmed down and just looked around at the lowering late afternoon light while she ate. And eventually, she had eaten her fill, and off we went again. By the time I returned her to the stables, I had gotten the hang of riding, a little bit, but I haven't done it since then. I do think that horses are beautiful, and I get a thrill when I happen upon horses running through a field, when I'm traveling somewhere. As I left town for Thanksgiving this year, I got very lucky and very thrilled indeed: about fifteen minutes into the trip, I passed a field where a horse had dropped onto her back and was rolling about, scratching. It was an utterly graceless, utterly lovely spectacle.

Those anecdotes aren't the funny part of what I have to tell you.

When my family relocated to Indiana in 1983, we moved into a house on the outskirts of town. The house was sited on the middle (mostly cleared) acre of a six-acre wooded property. There was an old red shed on the property; it had been the horse's home, when the daughter of the couple who had built the house had a horse. Our neighbor still had a horse, if I remember correctly, when we moved in. I think I remember walking over through the woods to visit the horse periodically--though, probably because I didn't have the girl-love of horses of which my Brooklyn blogfriend writes (despite my having loved it when Mrs. Whatsit became a centaur in A Wrinkle in Time [1962]), I didn't go every day or anything.

And the linoleum tiles of our kitchen floor had hoofprints in them. Deep, tile-crashed prints, scattered over much of the floor. My parents asked the real estate agent--as you do--how the floor had been damaged. She told them that the people who had built the house had had a daughter who had a horse; this horse was the one who lived in the red shed in the back three acres of the property. One weekend, her parents were out of town, and she was worried that the horse was lonely. And so, when the television show Fury was ready to come on the air, she led the horse into the kitchen so that he could watch it with her. The horse proceeded to stomp up the floor.

"That's not all that horse did in that kitchen," my great-grandmother commented wryly when my mother called her up to tell this story.

The story was a family staple for a couple of years, until we had those tiles taken out and put down a new floor. In the past few years, I've kicked myself for not having had the foresight to take pictures of the prints before they weren't there anymore. Of course, I was no more than nine or ten when we changed floors, which means we were still firmly in the time of the Kodak disc camera. Things are a little different now that I'm pushing thirty and shooting digital. (Do you remember those disc cameras? I liked the sinuous coiled metal wrist-chain.)

The horses I always loved best were on carousels (though I was also a huge fan of the KMart mechanical horse when I was a small child, and I also loved riding my spring-loaded rocking horse). On my first trip to New York City in the blazingly hot July of 1999, I rode the carousel in Central Park with my Knoxville friend. Because we're sometimes just this way, we had decided to wear crazy flowered minidresses all over the city that day, but we clambered up onto the horses anyway, and around and around we went. We might have been the only people on that carousel; it was really that hot outside. When we were done with our ride, we walked over to the Frick, and then to the Met. It was that kind of day.

I suppose that it was always the measured motion I loved, on those inanimate horses, never the wildness of what they shadowed gaudily.

Ironically, it turns out that the original Central Park Carousel, in operation from 1871-1908, was powered by a blind horse and mule.

sources for tonight's images: 1) The Happy Trails Highway (witness Trigger, with Roy Rogers, setting his prints in concrete at Mann's Chinese Theater in April 1949); 2) a Fury Brave Stallion trivia and memorabilia site; 3) a WiredNewYork Forum.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

One whose task is joyfully to see.

Though tonight feels like a night for writing, I seem simultaneously scattered and blocked up. I am having the most peculiar conversation with Middlemarch today, teetering as I am somewhere between Dorothea (with her "mind struggling towards an ideal life," her nature "altogether ardent, theoretic, and intellectually consequent," her "exalted enthusiasm about the ends of life") and Casaubon (who freely admits "I live too much with the dead. My mind is something like the ghost of an ancient, wandering about the world"). To my mind, one mark of an exceptional story is that I always hope against hope that it will turn out differently. And so, all evening I've been reading my way toward the cataclysm of Dorothea Brooke's young life, knowing that in my fifth reading of the novel, she will still commit the same folly, still not recognize the irony of having told her sister, within a day of having become disastrously affianced, "I have so many thoughts that may be quite mistaken." Nothing I learn ever helps Dorothea; it is one of the lingering sadnesses of my life.

Bundled into the day with Middlemarch has come the chance, after several days, to read Calvin Trillin's essay about his wife Alice (who died in September 2001 of heart failure brought on by a decades-long battle with cancer) in this week's New Yorker. I'm meditating on marital subjectivity and memory these days, chiefly for work-related reasons, so "Alice, Off the Page" has come as a great boon. The essay isn't available online, but if you're not a subscriber, you should shell out the $3.99 at your local newsstand (or what have you), just to read pages 44-57 in the March 27 issue. If Middlemarch ultimately turns out to be about the dark side of how "[m]arriage is so unlike everything else," how "[t]here is something even awful in the nearness it brings," then Trillin's tribute to his wife is about the loveliness of that unparalleled, awe-striking nearness. It is the second such tribute I've had my heart broken by in the past six months; the first was Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, which came out late last year and deserved all the acclaim it received, and then some more.

Yet somehow, despite the proximity of all these texts to one another, the best I can do for you this evening is not to thread words of my own together into thought (and, I hope, some degree of beauty) but rather to offer you a poem. I thought about giving you one by the poet who surprised my week so quietly and intensely and thoroughly, but instead, I'm diving back into my personal archives for a poem one of my dearest, oldest friends sent me back in the summer of 1999. It's a little early in the year for this one, particularly on a day that's seen everything from pelting sleet to cold, heavy rain, but everything else about it is right for now, for me. (Click the poem for an enlarged and more easily readable version.)

The New Yorker (June 14, 1999)

Friday, March 24, 2006

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Yes, when I was a college freshman, I was winnable with cummings poems. I felt quite deeply about them at the time; I might still, had I not been won temporarily by them all those years ago, in a relationship that was otherwise fairly disastrous, in a disaster-of-the-banal kind of way. Somehow, I don't think that my freshman boyfriend ever read or recited "i carry your heart with me," which is why somehow it seems exempt from the aura of disdain that I have to battle back from "somewhere i have never traveled" and a host of other lovely but, for me, marred poems.

With my youngest students, this morning, I had one of those classes that keeps me charged up and knowing I'm in the right line of work. The week's unexpected concatenation has left me reflecting on what it feels like to have literature move me--what it is that makes a work something to which I'll return, again and again, even when it's not on a syllabus, even when I'm not making my living by helping students understand it. The poems I've been loving my way through this week are in that class now. The poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins have been there for some time; the first time I read them and had to discuss them at a seminar table, I found myself on the brink of an outburst because I couldn't stand the clinical, purely intellectual way we were dissecting the gorgeousness of his fear and his exultation. How is it possible to read a poem like this one and then talk only of rhythm, only of how the sonnet form has been handled here?
The Windhover

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! And the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

It seems obvious to me that you don't read this poem and never talk about its form; Hopkins, as a poet, was devoted to form and made the forms he had inherited do intricate, strangely beautiful things. For an example, look at the first two lines of this poem--

but no, see, that's the wrong way to start. Reread the poem first, and read it aloud. You, sitting there at your table, sitting at your desk, thinking, "But I don't like poetry," just try it. Try it, I tell you, and imagine what it is that he's asking you to see. This poet is writing, in 1877 (and revising possibly until 1879), to convey the feeling of heart-soaring he feels while watching a bird winging a breeze. His heart is in hiding but stirs for this bird. That's all you really need to know, in order to read the poem aloud, tasting it on your tongue, in your mouth, in your person. Read it aloud slowly, stumblingly if you need to, and don't worry if you don't know what the words mean. Know what they sound like, and you'll find that that's enough to get you started.

And then if you look back at the first two lines, you'll see the strangeness of Hopkins's having broken the word "kingdom" in two, having pushed "dom" ahead to the second line, so that the first line makes the bird a king, and also so that the idea of "kingdom" itself gets broken up, gets made into something different than you might have expected. This kingdom isn't one of places or dominions or buildings or earthly power. It turns out to be a kingdom of daylight--the bird is the dauphin, the prince, of this kingdom of daylight--and that kingdom is diffuse, is everywhere. (Now is the time for me to tell you that Hopkins, a Jesuit priest, dedicated this poem to Christ.) And now, if you look at the poem as a whole--skipping over a lot of other things that you should do to really savor each of those lines--you'll see that all the lines in the first stanza rhyme. Not some of them, not every other one, not pairs. All of them are -ing words. That's an innovation; sonnets generally have had very regular rhyme schemes, but not uniform rhymes. And pair a uniform rhyme with Hopkins's flights of diction, his soaring of words and dissolution of expectations for even grammar itself, and you have a sense of what Hopkins does with form.

But you don't get anywhere with this poem, I'd argue, if you stop with those kinds of points--if you don't see and say aloud that this poem's rush and tumble of syllables and sounds all adds up to his thrill, his utter ecstasy at having seen this bird, in all its beautiful majesty. You miss it all if you don't reckon with what it means for Hopkins to write, "My heart in hiding / Stirred for a bird, -- the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!" (7-8).

Now, there's much more to be said about Hopkins's "The Windhover," but I'm going to leave it for now and let you explore it on your own. (If you haven't read it aloud by now, I'll just tell you straight out that you are perversely denying yourself an aesthetic experience from which you would benefit, whoever you are. Are you embarrassed to read the poem aloud? Don't be. Be embarrassed if your embarrassment stops you. If people around you want to know why you're speaking, invite them to listen. Gift them the poem, or even just a word from the poem. I'd suggest "dapple-dawn-drawn," the perfect word when you need an adjective to describe a thing traced by the day's checkery early light. Not that I, personally, would know much about what that's like. I believe that I've made clear that I have been one acquainted with the night.)

We hit a moment about two-thirds of the way through class this morning when I realized that, unexpectedly, we were walking along in plain view of a vista of contemplation that was too good for me not to stop and point my students toward. Why is it that we don't talk more often about what it might mean to be moved by a poem, or a novel? My guess, the guess I spun for them from the head of the table, is that it's too intimate an endeavor, that it's ripe with possibilities for embarrassment or over-sharing or exposure. And so I went first, and I didn't demand that they pipe up just yet with the things that they love. I told them a short and discreet version of what has shaken me this week; I prepped them for what I hope will shake them as we take our first steps into Toni Morrison's Beloved next week; I gave them the two other titles upon which I can rely for a reading experience that never gets old, never goes stale--in fact, that grows and changes as I grow and change. (Those two titles are Middlemarch and To the Lighthouse.) After about ten minutes of my talking, I stopped and took a deep breath. Some eyes had widened around the table, but some pens had also come out and written down titles; some voices had asked for the titles of the poems I'd loved this week. "I feel as though I've just slipped open my chest and offered you my heart," I said, miming the act. We all laughed. I don't think the laugh undercut the point I'd made; after class, three or four students stopped by my end of the table to recommend books that have moved them, things that have served them as touchstones this far.

This kind of moment makes its way into nearly all of my classrooms at least once in a semester. I can't plan it; the right day for it to pay a visit generally becomes clear with only a few minutes of advance warning. But I feel it as one of the important things that happen in my classrooms: such moments of non-confessional self-revelation, of laying something vital on the line without placing inappropriate demands on my relationship with my students, are among the best ways I know to show them why I care about what we're endeavoring to do together. They are my ways of telling my students, I love that you're learning to love to learn; I want to do all I can to ensure that you're learning love itself. I can't teach them love itself, I know, but I teach in my field because literature is where I find and feel my humanity most clearly and keenly, and I teach because my heart is too big for me not to do this work, not to carry fifty or sixty hearts in my heart each semester, hoping to do my part to keep and care for them like the incubator in which we hatched chicks and ducklings (how fragile, how small, how stumbling and inquisitive) when I was in kindergarten. I can't actually sing them a love song; they wouldn't understand. But while I'm teaching them about narrative voice and temporality, about strategies and sentence structures, about rhyme schemes and rhythms, I'm also always hoping that they're learning a greater underlying lesson about the achieve of, the mastery of the thing--about the fire that can break from them then, a billion times told lovelier, and gash gold-vermillion.

source for tonight's images:
First-to-Fly's history of the Wright brothers (two of Ohio's most famous sons). The top two images are dated 1902; the last one is 1908.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The clandestine order and meaning of all signs.

All of my rings have meanings; they speak in a silence of silver, a more significant version of strings tied to fingers, pressing particular memories and mantras into the flesh of my hands. Because my life and livelihood revolve around my fingers moving over keyboards, my hands are the best place to wear my reminders. On a first date, an old somebody asked me, "What do your rings mean?" I overinterpreted him; I thought his question was a sign that attention would be paid, that he had decided to speak my life's language. I am frequently guilty of overinterpreting. My father has recently coined a new noun, colliding my name with a habit he's warned me out of for decades.

Nearly a year ago, I traded in the silver band I'd been wearing on my right hand's middle finger, traded it in for a ring shaped like a tiny crown. My Lexington friend has the other half of this almost-matched set (hers is simply a band), and we wear them in solidarity against all the things we guard and guide each other through, and in hope of all the things we envision for ourselves and one another. Since our exchange, marking our turning 29, I have only rarely not worn my half of the pair. But today was one of those days.

The band I'd been wearing until last April is slim and silver, pressed with stars and a single moon. When I wear it, all three of my rings are from the same store and the same jewelry artist in Ithaca. The fat band on my left hand is for courage. The slim band on my right ring finger is for commitment; it is my doctoral ring, silver for now; I take it off for sleeping and doing dishes only. The star band was for solitude and hope. I bought it the week after having left the person to whom I'd thought I'd be married; I wore it to remind myself I'd chosen generously for myself, that bigger things were in store.

Today I wanted to wear the stars, and what I wanted turned out to be prescient. Today the richest things that happened to me were so strange and ambiguous and impossible that I cannot even write them, cannot put them in public, can only hint and sketch and puzzle them out even in my own startled and rattled mind. The right modifiers haven't debuted; the shape of the thing is still shaping itself; I laugh at myself in my skepticism, laugh at the revelation I felt and the reminder I've gotten and the knowledge I hold that what was least expected need not even be confirmed, need not even have happened, in order to have been what it was and to have done what it did. What I feel, more than anything, is gratitude.

Today I relearned why words always win me, why my life has been called this way, how its bounds are shifting and unsettling, how I'll soon be unintelligible perhaps even to myself if the epiphanies don't stop, if the exultation doesn't calm and sustain until indulgence is safe. Or safer. Safety seems unlikely, and I would likely flee it anyway.

"Reckon the haste of one wall burning," our visiting poet began, in the poem from which today's title comes and which you too should read. At the end of the day, his lines having rattled and rooted around in my mind since morning, I found myself facing the burning bush outside my building, watching it sit, seemingly so still, but knowing (we both know, the bush and I) that it's building up for the burst into blaze, the budding the leafing the greening, so soon. "A prayer for a new image, yes." "I will be the world, for a little while. As such waiting." I have no one reading that will account for these lines, no way yet to make their meaning to me knowable or known.

The poem that met me, startled me, on Tuesday turns out barely to have escaped being burnt.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

I walk woodlands home in my shoes.

This line is the one that got stuck in my head the second time I came home today. Not the time I came home for lunch and breath-catching after an hour with my thrilled young ones, so happy to be returning to a book they read when they were small, and to find that they understand it now. The time I came home after office hours and an hour-long argument with a student over whether cultural criticism and aesthetic criticism are mutually exclusive and whether aesthetic ranking or valuing is desirable, or even possible. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I turn out to contradict myself and to contain multitudes on these questions. Very well.

But when I packed up and started out on the walk home, I found myself stalled in the parking lot, stopped by birdsong. All day long, I've been picking out birds, hearing them in trees and needing to stand still until I can make out where their improbably large sounds are originating. There's a terrific Virginia Woolf essay (now there's a redundancy for you) that begins with Woolf's imagining histories and literatures of the past as a kind of hedge, within which, if we listen closely enough, we can begin to hear all manner of rustlings and stirrings, the unruly jostling movements of life itself. Today I reappropriated the analogy and just looked about for the actual stirring things in the trees and shrubs around here.

In the fall, I was walking to class one afternoon and passed an enormous evergreen positively seething with birds, not a single one of which was visible to me.

In the winter, a friend told me that he'd bought a birdfeeder for his front porch so that his cats could watch the birds. "It's like cable for them," he said. "I prefer the finches, myself."

Today, the bird that arrested my steps in the parking lot was not quite so racy as the pileated woodpecker I watched and listened to from my back window during lunch (like cable, indeed!). It was a cardinal, perched at the very top of one of the trees outside my officehouse, singing away. (Except that, perversely, I'm still not sure it was a cardinal. The song sounded not quite right, and the body doesn't look quite right, either; to me the neck seems too slender, too articulated, for this bird to be a cardinal. What I know: the bird was red and lovely, poised in the branches' tracery against the blue-grey evening sky, and it was in song, full throat.) I stood and listened, fixing it with my eye and ear, until my excellent poet colleague joined me, and then we watched and listened to it together until it decided to fly away. We had turned our heads briefly to speak to one another, and when we looked up, the bird was gone.

At dinner, our visiting poet said that he tells his students to practice creative listening.

Thomas Hardy worried that sound was among the things that flee when present becomes past:
1897. January 27. To-day has length, breadth, thickness, colour, smell, voice. As soon as it becomes yesterday it is a thin layer among many layers, without substance, colour, or articulate sound.
The woodlands in my shoe are exactly what I won't remember about today, unless I write them: after the bird flew away from the parking lot, after my colleague drove away in her car, after another of my excellent friends met me and we strode toward home together and then he kept striding toward his house, I let myself into my house and realized that my shoes had been filling up with Gambier that whole time. A collection of small stones, a twig, another twig--this place and my rustling and jostling through it, underfoot.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Here's the transgression.

Someone has asked me, what is your compositional method? I write off the top of my head, I say. But I lie, a little. Most days, I write around the nub of something that plants itself early and picks up weight and shape, heft and features, as the day goes on. It's always a chance; some of the things that implant don't come to fruition, and others are gestating still.

This evening, the office is deepening, darkening; I haven't been here so late in weeks. There, where it has escaped my notice for hours, is the piece of cake left over from my afternoon class, when some students brought food for us, and I know what I am going to do, and it even has a title.

Here's the transgression:

Turn back from the coat and the door and the car and the trip home for more work, the work that will be there, the work that won't leave. Sit by the window where the light is blueing and eat your strange cake and read poems, the poems by the visiting writer with whom you'll dine tomorrow. Side-stepping responsibility for poetry is too delicious to do without full preparation: head to the bathroom, get yourself ready. In the bathroom, discover what you've known for several days, what you always know, as one does, through one means or another: that your body has been getting ready to drop another hint and has now dropped it, that that lifetime supply with which you were born has just diminished by one or two, that now would be the time to be careful were any care to be needed. Here's the transgression: no one will know, no one will want or need to know, it will be no more matter than the fact that it is, it will come to nothing, full stop. But your body can't keep itself quiet, can't accept what is not happening, must let you know in no uncertain terms, each and every month, that this fruitlessness has two weeks to live.

Back in the office, another transgression, an incursion into a space about which no one is supposed to know, about which you have not even known until just now: the first poem is "Deliverance" and begins with a birthing of death, a grappling with the still-to-be-stillborn. Livestock, not humans, you remind yourself helplessly; this poem is about cows and horses and pigs. But first it begins with a line that is perfect: "Then I realized I had read too many poems." And though you have not read too many poems, though you have never had as much patience for poems as you've wanted, though what you're about to read will complicate and qualify that line, you know what his nine words mean, in ways that even he may not know. The thing that's to come will come even without words, without "the human urgency, greasy hands / reaching deep into unimaginable places." The poem rails mutely, beholds, becomes, beats out "only the dumb rhythm of begetting," leaves us "shivering for no reason, no reason at all, / fresh from that hard dream of safety." The words and the writing are beside the point, really, except that nothing is beside the point of the real. (When the students brought in the cake, you think as you throw out your plate, it had a sign on it that warned readers not to eat: "This is a SCIENCE EXPERIMENT. You will be sorry!" You glimpsed blue and green under the paper and assumed mold, because you've been growing mold for years. You are terribly accomplished at mold-growing, at the cold creeping birth of new organisms.)

The poetry is over for you for now; it has, as so many things have lately, cut too close to the bone, spoken too resonantly to the body, been responded to too vigorously by the flesh. Put this paper away, button up for the slippery walk through spring snow, stop in the village to retrieve the movie that's come in the mail, the movie you're afraid to watch because of where the identifications will fall, seventeen years since you last saw it, since you said, that's the life I want, that one. Remember reading in Rolling Stone, back in seventh grade--not so long after the lunch recess when one girl screamed at another, "You tell that bitch I ain't pregnant and I'll show her a bloody rag if she don't believe me!" and you couldn't believe that anyone could shout such a thing and live--about how Jane panics at a security point because she's carrying condoms in her purse, and how the inclusion of such a thing in a major movie was penetrating to some new frank frontier.
Remember being titillated by the very thought, even though you had no idea, just none at all--even though, of course, child of the 80s, you knew what condoms were and why they mattered. Remember when being twenty-nine and carefully eager, eagerly careful, seemed impossibly distant, did not even seem.

Here's the transgression:

Snow fell on the flowers this afternoon, the seasons crossing and clashing as they do most years, though everyone forgets and everyone frets and fusses. These are the things that would happen, as the poet says, "with or without us."

After the post office, the evening gone bluer, stop at the bookstore. Defy your own rules. Pick out more poetry, knowing how your patience has been growing all winter, knowing there's no more possible protection, no more care needed, only the filling and the fullness, the swelling into song, the urgent gripping and grappling into life.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The dragon welcomes you to spring.

In case you're confused, you can visit an earlier manifestation of the dragon, who lives down the street from me.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

I never liked these statues much.

Until, that is, I took a walk with my brother the photographer.

We have this group of five musical angels, sculptures by Carl Milles, perched atop pillars outside our campus auditorium. My brother and I went out for a stroll this afternoon, and when he stopped walking and started shooting the angels, I was suddenly able to see them differently, and to shoot them, too:

It's no surprise to me, after this many years, that my brother can help me see things differently; seeing things differently is, after all, his vocation. Now, I'm not saying that I like these statues better than the other, actually flying things I saw today--a male cardinal, a tufted titmouse, a house finch, and (less savory) two enormous turkey vultures perched atop a chimney. (Of all those things, I think I liked the titmouse best; it was tiny and grey, hopping about in the holly bushes outside my house, and its crest, fine and crazy like my own hair, made me love it.) But somehow I feel grateful that I've been able to see them in an appreciative way, at long last.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Trees I have loved.

Mnemonic devices have never seemed to be of much use to me; I've never been the person who could chant the planets by using some kind of acronym, or who could remember the color spectrum by knowing Roy G. Biv (though, of course, I've just revealed that I do remember that particular mnemonic--probably because I was embarrassed at some point in the past when I was outed for not knowing it) (the "i" is for "indigo," in case you're now trying to suss those colors out).

But I was reminded this afternoon, as I shivered my way home from the bookstore, of a great mnemonic from my childhood. The sun was starting its slide into lowering gold, and so the sky in the east was a stunning blue, all the better to set off the enormous sycamore tree on a corner across the street from downtown Gambier. When they're not in leaf, sycamores are really able to show off the white brilliance of their upper branches, where their bark is either still forming or has already fallen off. Sycamores, see, have this funny bark that peels off in sheets on a more or less regular basis. And one way to interpret their appearance is to view them as being sick, though they're far from it; in fact, I've heard it argued that plane trees (of which the American sycamore is a variety) make the ideal urban tree because they're constantly shedding old bark, and because their leaves are large and glossy and thus easily washed by even a small amount of rain. But I suppose that when one is teaching elementary school children about trees, one does whatever one can to help them learn, and so, when I was little, I learned to remember "sycamore" because its name included "sick" and its skin seemed "sick" as well.

As I walked the half-mile home this afternoon, the Brooklyn Street sycamore branched its white fingers through my brain, trying to wrest some companion trees for itself. And sure enough, they started to appear, in all their exfoliating glory:

My best, my first, sycamore trees grew along the side of the ditch at the bottom of my family's six acres in the first town we lived in in Indiana. My brother and I called this ditch the stream, because it rambled its own way along the east edge of our property, a good quarter-mile from the house, and thus felt as wild, as unpredictable and natural, as the Muscatatuck River, which flowed through the county and gave its name to our local state park and wildlife refuge. It had stony rapids, sandy shoals, pebbly shallows. It had minnows and, in the spring and summer, crayfish. It had narrows we could cross without getting wet, and it had wider passages where we needed to improvise bridges and steps. At one of these widenings, an enormous sycamore had put its roots down in the stream's sandy bank and grown to a prodigious height. Because there wasn't much bank on its side of the stream, I generally observed it from the other side, but occasionally the weather would change the stream's complexion just enough to allow me to get closer to the sycamore, even to balance on one of its roots, for a different (though not better) view of its variegated bark, patchworked of browns and drab greens and greys and bright whites. What I remember--and what I probably couldn't check, even if I were in southern Indiana right now, because as far as I know that tree is long gone, and the stream certainly is--is that the tree had somehow stretched its trunk, or perhaps the uppermost, hardest-barked part of its root system, along the bank, so that a substantial length of itself grew horizontal before making the turn skyward.

When we were about to move to Indiana (not India, as I initially thought, when my mother first delivered the news to my six-year-old self), my parents bought me the green vinyl covered Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds (Eastern Region), for use in our new home. A couple years later, they supplemented it with the Field Guide to North American Trees (Eastern Region). (I thought I had gotten those books closer together, but the brown tree guide is copyrighted 1985, so my memory is proven wrong.) The tree guide got a lot less use than the bird guide, whose spine lost much of its white-printed title over the years. But both books have been close to hand for a couple of decades now. The tree guide tells me that in fact my memory is right on: the habitat of the "American sycamore," aka the "American Planetree," aka Platanus occidentalis, is "wet soils of stream banks, flood plains, and edges of lakes and swamps." It also characterizes this tree in a way I quite like: "Sycamore pioneers on exposed upland sites such as old fields and strip mines.... The present champion's trunk is about 11' (3.4 m) in diameter; an earlier giant's was nearly 15' (4.6 m). The hollow trunks of old, giant trees were homes for chimney swifts in earlier times." It's true, by the way, about the champion trees: go off and google image search for sycamore, and you'll rapidly reach sites like Champion Trees, where the largest trees of their species are catalogued for your edification. (This paragraph's image is the New York Champion sycamore, in Pine Plains. It is 26.2 feet in circumference. If I'm remembering my basic geometry correctly, that means it's about 8.4 feet in diameter. After the first two or three hundred years of their lives, these trees hollow out altogether--creating a space perfect for chimney swifts, in other words. Or, according to another site, for Ohioan men on horseback--as many as fifteen, apparently, though forty men without their horses could get into some of the largest trees.)

Now, "American sycamores" are not alone in the platanaceae family; that family also includes the "London Planetree," or platanus xacerifolia. You urban friends of mine (yes, I'm talking to you New Yorkers) probably pass these trees all the time. I am not enough of a botanist to trace out all the differences you'd need to be able to observe if you wanted to decide whether you were looking at an American sycamore or a London planetree, though. Were it not the beginning of the last day of my vacation, I'd do the legwork for you. As it is, I've gotten you to the beginning of the legwork. Now you know that you want to know more, and sometimes that's all I can accomplish.

My second favorite memory of trees like sycamores, then, is actually of the London planetrees under which I ate my lunch every day while I was doing dissertation research at the London Library five years ago. The London Library squeezes unassumingly into a corner of St. James's Square in London, and there's a lovely gated park in the square's center. Though it's a private park, it's open to the public in the mornings and afternoons, and during the weeks I worked at the library, it was always pleasantly full of people throughout the lunch hour. The grass was curiously short and carpety, and the park was shady and cool because of its enormous, canopying planetrees. Some days, I could barely wait for lunch, just so that I could sit on that lawn and watch people coming and going, eating and posing, lounging and strolling, sleeping and reading. St. James's Square is only steps away from Piccadilly Circus, which is beastly hot and crowded during the summer, but St. James's Square is just enough off the tourist track to stay quiet and calm, and I loved it with a large heart, all through June and July. On one of the last days I ate lunch there--and it helped, I'll tell you, that the EAT chain had a shop just up the street from the square, so that I was able to eat fine sandwiches (salami and roasted red pepper and tapenade on olive ciabatta) and pasta salads (Thai peanut chicken) every day, or at least when I was too lazy to pack a lunch for myself--I sat in the square trying to take pictures of the trees, so that I wouldn't forget them. The pictures didn't come out with nearly the depth of my recollection, but taking them probably helped me encode the recollection in the first place. I'd offer you one of my pictures anyhow, but I took them on film. Here's someone else's image, and though it's from spring and I'm talking about summer, I think you'll get a sense of why it was just the right idyll for an archival sleuth out for lunch. And, lest you'd forgotten the starting point for tonight's post, check the bark on these trees to see their visual relation to the American sycamore.

Now, about that vacation's ending. Alas that I'm leaving tonight's post a little more dangling even than usual. One of these days, I'm going to try and pull together some of these fragments for you, by way of explaining how it is that I've come to have such a fragment-privileging aesthetic in the first place. My mother's quilts shaped my eye, even as they kept me warm night after night and fascinated day after day. Tonight, I may have realized that sycamore bark and the dapples of leaf shade are in there as formative influences, too.

sources for tonight's images: 1, 2, and 7) moi, bien sur; 3) Champion Trees; 4) a truly astounding online version of John James Audubon's four-volume Birds of America (1827-38); 5) Wikipedia's entry about St. James's Square; 6) the Panchromatica blog.

Yesterday's answer key.

1. Renaissance, soon.
2. The road.
3. Dinner (cf. Thursday's writing).
4. Lightning rods and lowering light.
5. Wooded ruination.
6. Window shapes and lightning rods.
7. Love in silhouette.

Friday, March 17, 2006

What can any artist set on fire but her world?

This afternoon, I climbed in the car and made the hour's drive into Columbus for lunch with a stranger. As some of you know, I was feeling far from exuberant about this excursion; it felt far more like gritting my teeth and forcing myself into something than I'd have liked. But I did it in the interest of following through, of seeing whether I'm supposed to be doing the hard work of keeping my heart open, just in case. Having done it, I think I'm out of this game for awhile; I don't see myself finding the things for which I'm keenly sore, and which I was so giddily glowing to think that I'd found this winter, by going on in this vein.

There's a big hill one must climb on OH-229 in order to head west from Gambier. As my car plugged away up the hill, a hawk dropped out of the trees to the right and unfurled its reddish-brown and white tail, fanned it open and wide to catch a thermal. It was in my sightline for just a moment before its swoop and my plod separated us. I thought about that hawk during much of my drive. I see a lot of birds of prey here--hawks, mainly, but also the occasional vulture. Usually, I see them circling high above the woods behind my house; the other day, when the wind roared high even though the sun was brilliant, a hawk hung and dipped, apparently moving simply with the wind's motion, near enough to me while I took some pictures that I decided it was best to keep moving. This afternoon, more than ever, I reflected on the cruelty of their beauty, or the beauty of their cruelty. I'm not even sure which I'd call it. Their grace is absolutely purposeful; their purpose is killing; this killing grace is a breath-stopping beauty.

In another kind of life, I would now progress to the next stage of an analogy between myself, kitted up for a lunch with someone I'd never met, and this graceful prey-bird. But another thing I had time to reflect on, as I waited in the sun for my lunch companion, is the variety of lives I have not led and, because I have no interest in them, will not lead. For instance: the two twentysomething people sitting over my right shoulder were planning their St. Patrick's Day drinking strategy. It took me a moment to figure out what they were talking about, because they were throwing around high numbers--"I've got $60, and that's all I'm willing to spend," one of them said. They plotted shots and food intake, discussed maintenance and the possibility that earrings might vanish ("I really like this pair," the woman said to her male companion. "I don't want to lose them tonight."). I used to hate it when an old somebody used to declare things boring. "I just find it kind of boring," he'd say, sometimes about things that were, to my mind, in no way boring at all. But this afternoon I found his voice echoing in my head, as I eavesdropped on my tableneighbors. What am I doing here? was what I couldn't stop thinking. It was as though I were forcing myself to go through the paces of some bizarre dumbshow that is the life of some people my age but simply isn't meant to be mine, not least because I think I'm done having my social life revolve around a metropolis that's an hour away.

When it all came down to it, on a grand scale of terror to wonder, I'd put my afternoon somewhere firmly in the realm of okay--not something I'd want to do again, but not something that made me murderous. In the past two weeks, I've clarified for myself a great deal that I really wasn't fooling myself about wanting to leave an urban area (if a smallish one) to move back to a rural one. And when--because, I tell you, some people never learn--I managed to get myself into rush hour traffic on the northwest side of Columbus and started flashing back to when I'd pull that deft move on myself in Rochester, I realized that I was reconfirming yet again (can I stop now?) that if I can help it I'd like my daily life never to involve a rush hour, or an interstate. Or an interstate at rush hour. Even if I can get good wine by traveling it.

But: because I'd gotten out my camera to try and get a picture of what I don't want my life to look like (in the shape of a five-lanes-each-way beltway backed up at 5:45 p.m. on a Friday), I still had it to hand when the pictures of what my life happily does look like started to present themselves. The pay-off for the entire day--better even than getting some new Staedtler pens and a new plastic eraser (unparalleled for grading)--came when I realized I'd be driving home from the interstate through thirty minutes of my favorite light. And so, when I wasn't near other cars, I started snapping shots for you (and, who am I kidding, myself as well). My horizons are crooked, sometimes, sure, but keep in mind that I was driving the car--and that the ones that are really crooked or blurred are that way more or less purposefully. Here, at long last, are some instances of those barns I talked about months ago, and if you look closely you can see the green starting to appear in some of these fields.

Even the end of my street was lit up when I got back to Gambier, as if to welcome me home. Only, I knew that I was the one doing the welcoming. This light and these trees are here whether I show up or not, and so, at least for now, here is where I show up. Here is where I live.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

How it is that things intervene.

I am making my head hurt from thinking so much about all of the things that I don't want to do. I am tempted to continue writing in anapests, since that first sentence scans so nicely. (An anapest is a unit of meter made up of three syllables; the first two are unstressed or weak, the third stressed or strong, and the overall effect rollicking. You may recall that I have confessed my love of triplets and 6/8 time in music. I also love anapests and dactyls. A dactyl is the mirror image of an anapest: it is one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed.) And yet I won't.

Earlier, I was thinking that I would write tonight about the night my Clintonian (but then still Ithacan) friend and I drove all over Rochester on a blisteringly cold November Monday, trying to find a restaurant that would feed us dinner but that wasn't a diner. We drove around the city for two hours. Every time we found a place that seemed like a good candidate--a Thai restaurant, an Italian restaurant, a pan-Asian noodle joint, a Japanese restaurant, even our last-ditch try, a swanky hipster bar/bistro--we'd find out that they'd just closed a few minutes earlier. The situation grew more and more dire, the more we drove around the city. Finally, at about 10:15 p.m., we gave up and went to Wegmans, our mainstay, and bought ingredients for seafood fettucine alfredo. This dish is a good standby in times of culinary need, because it's so rife with shortcuts. Choose your favorite brand of noodles. Choose the bottled alfredo sauce that seems best (read: least full of partially hydrogenated oils). Choose your favorite version of faux seafood (I am partial to faux crab, myself). Boil the noodles. Heat the faux seafood with the faux alfredo sauce. Mix it all together. It will taste delicious.

I was thinking about this meal tonight because my Clintonian friend was just here yesterday, and also because I cooked myself some Faux Fettucine tonight. I wandered through the earlier part of the day before finally driving to the store in the late afternoon to get some groceries, and fairly inventive ones (for me), at that. Pasta in heavy sauce with fake crab felt like a good idea at the time--and in fact turned out to have been a good idea.

What's funny about my writing plans, though, is that they were scuppered a bit by what happened while I cooked. I've mentioned that one wall of my kitchen is basically a sliding patio door. When the fettucine was nearly done boiling, I turned to wash my hands at the kitchen sink, and when I turned again to dry them, I realized with more than a small start that a full-grown doe was standing in the middle of the backyard, also recovering from more than a small start at having seen me suddenly appear at the window. I clambered as soft-footedly as I could into the other room to try and get a picture for you, but the whole photographing deer thing really doesn't work so well at this time of year and in the kind of weather we had today. My only even vaguely viable shot only included three of the four deer who had actually been standing in the yard when I happened to look out and experience a moment of mutual shock with one of them. All four high-tailed it out of the yard, running around to the front of the house and then across the street and onto the college's property--where they proceeded to join five other deer who had already congregated there. Nine deer now. I have a theory about why I'm seeing more deer banding together than ever before: in part because of the protests of my neighbor (who hates the deer for eating his plants and shrubs, despite his having shrouded said plants and shrubs in chickenwire), Gambier orchestrated a legal deer hunt this winter, a kind of second season, to try and thin out their ranks. I wonder whether the ones that are left have now turned to one another, in compensation for the ones who've been lost. I realize that I anthropomorphize. (Here's your evening's etymology lesson, by the way: the verb "high-tail" originated in the U.S. in the 1920s and comes straight from the way some animals--deer included--flee with their tails erect.)

As I stood in the evening-dark house, holding a camera that hadn't managed to get a good image of any of that fright and scurry and regrouping, I thought back to the best image of my drive home from the grocery. Tonight I deliberately took one route to the store and another route home, thereby executing a kind of circle around a particular corner of my world, and my deliberate purpose, as I told it to myself, was to check on everything and see whether anything was different. These were the words in my head as I drove eastward on US-36. I can only imagine that checking on everything encompassed seeing whether any fields have sprung into early green, or whether any livestock are out in different array, or whether the stubble from last year's crop looks different in steely grey evening, which is not when I'm usually out driving that route. No to spring green, yes to livestock (I saw two white horses and a brown miniature donkey that I want to call wee despite redundancy), and a bit to steely stubble. But as I approached the junction of 36 and OH-308, which brought me back to Gambier, I was looking at a barn I quite like, on the north side of the highway: it's not a ruin yet, by any means, but it looks to be less used than perhaps it once was. Its roof is rusted, its walls greying wood with some of their white paint still on, its roofline topped by three evenly spaced lightning rods, the middle of which is also a weathervane. This barn sits a little ways from the road, in a slight declivity, and its rusted roof sets it off from the wintered gold of what's left of last year's corn. I really do like this barn, in much the same way that I realized, as I drove toward the interstate at the outset of my trip a couple of weeks ago, that I really do like mid-Ohio's landscape, its modest hills and small expanses and little streams. Much as I chafe against it sometimes, this alternately bleak and fertile landscape, punctuated with ruin and loveliness and neglect and perpetuated life and idiocy and grace, is home to my eye.

Just as I clicked on my right turn signal, I noticed, off in the distance (and still to my left, on the north side of the highway), a herd of deer standing in a far field, barely distinguishable from the brown monochrome of the lessening light, the hill-rippled rows, the horizon of trees still bare but soon to be leafing. I didn't have time to count them. I barely had time to register them. They were not majestic at that distance. They were tiny, negligible, utterly quiet, curiously unstill. They were a quick glimpse, an absence of color, a presence of life in low light, a closed camouflaged congregation, a weird complement to a girl alone in a car, heading home to stand by a stove in the memory of a meal shared.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I am dazzled in days and lost.

Today the sun was high and bright and the living room was illuminated and warm and I sat on the couch after my friends left and though I was meant to be doing work reading I found my day's title in another Annie Dillard book that I had checked out at the library when one of my friends needed Heidegger like he needed air and when I realized I could find Merleau-Ponty whom I'll probably not get to until May but I checked him out anyway and brought out from the library with me into the sun both my friends and my armload of books and walked to look at offices in my officehouse for this summer I must move and then I took pictures of signs all the way through town and first there was the one that reminded me of seeing Wayne's World with my father

and then I took a break from signs for a moment for this one that reminded me of a certain urban photographer

and then there was the one that spoke (if weirdly) for itself and my friend said isn't found type terrific you can do so much with it

and now it occurs to me that he's right and I could do even more with that one

and then there was the one that you're not expecting

and then there was the one that would be good for my office door and in case you're wondering I think the G and V are for Gambier Village so that we don't have to have any rumbles when people come over from Howard or Danville to take our signs

and then there was the one that made me say to my friends do you think they'd let us be a sixth borough and my friends said no and I thought yeah if Philadelphia's having a rough time of it I guess Gambier's got trouble

and then we came home and I performed the personals from the London Review of Books because my gift subscription started today and here are the three best ones from this week

and before you say there is just so much sometimes and maybe you should save something for later let me just tell you that I am done with saving things for later because even the living room lamp made a spectacle of itself today

not to mention the ceiling during breakfast

and so I trust that abundance will keep coming tomorrow.