Tuesday, October 31, 2006

In recognition of the day.

Someone drew this picture on one of my life's many chalkboards last week, and I think it's possible that you might have to love it, even if you haven't read Dracula, or even if the idea of a love plot between Mina Harker and Dracula makes you shed a quiet, internal tear every time you encounter it in an adaptation of Stoker's novel. (I might just be talking about myself there.)


In my dream (by the way) my poet colleague had just bought the upstairs flat of his parents' house, moved his stuff in, disappeared for awhile. I had tickets to a concert. My brother floated around in the background. Another colleague showed up as I sat in a chair in a road, as if at a street festival. A thing of great beauty appeared on the sunny, wetted road. I did not have my camera. I said, "I'm going to get my camera!" and ran away, knowing that the light would not be the same when I returned. I ran and ran, on the balls of my feet, keeping my heels off the ground, until I reached the place where I thought I'd left the camera; it was near the place to which my poet colleague had moved (and from which he had disappeared for awhile). In his absence was a notebook, on a child's desk on a porch, and I felt no compulsion to read it. The grassy parking lot behind the house had gone terribly crowded, what with the new presence of returning students. Three men with full beards arrived for prayer at the Italianate house across the street. By the time I had the camera in hand, I knew that the light had failed me, and vice versa--that I had lost the image that had set me running lightly and silent through the wet roads. And yet I did not worry: in my dream perturbation was as quiet as my sleep itself.


In my dream, the image I lost was a single strawberry gleaming on a road. In my waking, walking back to the office house beneath the crabapples pendant with waterdrops, I found a single strawberry shining on the path. It is possible that no meaning attends upon this pairing. It is possible that its sheer insignificance is part of what I love.


And, oh, the strawberry continues, even to the end of the night: it is Halloween, but I have hidden in my office all this rainy night, straightening and photocopying and filing reimbursement forms and downsizing files for a friend and grading (at last). And now, without even thinking about what I'm doing, I've started mawing my Frankenberry cereal--in recognition of the day, you see, and in (shuddering) recognition of the fact that I actually adore this synthetic mess of a fake food. It is "strawberry flavor cereal." The lack of connection among those words is crucial: it's decidedly not strawberry-flavored. It is flavor cereal; it is strawberry flavor. It is the end of my Halloween. Trick or treat. In fact, trick and treat. It's a one-woman show up here at the officehouse.


And yes, Miscellanie's strawberry was the object of my dream. I think I was embarrassed to say so before. Why? Who can say.

Monday, October 30, 2006


First Vertical Poetry No. 27

Where is the heart I am calling?
Heart become eyelid
of an eye on its way to where I am.
The eye is not here yet and already I can see.
Before there is a heart I am made of beating.
I am calling in an open doorway.
I am calling from inside.

-- Roberto Juarroz (trans. W. S. Merwin)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A quick guide to driving in Ohio.

You will find that the corn, this time of year, stays bent or even broken just as it has been blown. The remaining ears will not have desiccated, but all else will.

The white barn on the south side of the highway will pull its usual tricks on you. Be careful where you look: that knife's edge divide of brightness from shadow will do its best to fix you.

Cows will have been moved to the other side of the road, away from the piece of land your excellent friend calls Quagmire Farm, no doubt because the turf there needs cropping. You will want to stare at the cows' backs; you will want to think of their backs as woolen, or as pelts, or as furry. You will decide that you don't know what to call them. You will remember having learned on the plane home that cranes do something called kettling. You will want to decide to say to people, "Well, that's a fine kettle of cranes." If you don't stop this mulling, you will wreck your car.

You will decide that you yourself need to learn to kettle this spring.

You will continually fight an urge to stop the car and photograph everything in sight.

You will learn the ways that barn roofs disassemble. Once a corner of that metal comes loose, they roll up like windowshades, curling up toward their peaks or up and over like inverted bedsheets. You will swear there are more ruins now than a week ago. You will know that you're employing the pathetic fallacy again, thinking those shivered silvers might solace your unravelings.

Someone will run a stoplight right in front of you and then drive under the speed limit for the next ten minutes. You will wrestle yourself to patience until you can pass him.

Your hill will still be waiting for you when you return, but the field across the highway will have become stubbled rows.

You will realize that you have come home with no pictures at all, only colors, more colors: all yours, this group, colors without names.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

What is an approach?

An elevation added to a distance: If you raise a bright flag in your high window, I will haul up the signal of my finest vapors.

From here, I watch white planes arrowing down. From here, I fly my journey in reverse, rewrite a young friend's longing song, dwell in the tiny whiteness of birds on a river, the long shadow of a crane, the glittering of light on glass on water.

A white plane slips up into the white sky. This place's noise is a confused deafening. Even the sun making its cameo appearance does not change these colors from their browns, their fatigued palette of sands and stones. Tiny men walk atop tall buildings. No one seems to mind this smallness.

Now I know that I took that starling cloud for granted, trying to rewrite it in words that haven't been used yet: nothing could touch those five dimensions of its flight.

Oh, these glints are not my home. This open sky is not the one I would fall under. I have seen no grass in days. These are the wrong uncertainties.

I watch the planes, and I want return.


This will be more like it, if it hasn't vanished in my absence.


But this will do, sort of, for now.


Was I ungrateful before? Trees full of invisible starlings sang me on my way to dinner. I retract, but only a little.


And what of Hem's sings me best right now, while I set back the clocks and pack up my things? Yes, maybe, ah, if only. Yes. Why always a soundtrack? Why not. There are others, too; I just don't tell you about them.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Daybreak again.

In my dream, I'd lost my red purse. In my red purse were all my bibliography notes, my pen case with all my ink, all the supplies I needed in order to make worthwhile the event to which I was meant to have traveled twenty minutes earlier. My next class was supposed to start at 2 p.m. My fellow students--some of whom were students of mine, some of whom were people I knew in grad school--kept waiting for me to get my act together, watched as I kept disappearing into the communal closet to change clothes yet again (it was so hot; my clothes were so soaked), and to stall in the hopes that my purse would reappear. I kept telling them to go on without me. One by one, they did. I couldn't find the purse but finally gave up. And then, as I tried to get to whatever class we were taking, I had to walk through some vaguely wooded space, and there were two of my football players, doing something that stranded one of them in a tree. What were they doing? It's only one of the details gone fugitive upon my waking to a morning so rainy it's fogged out the city beyond my window.

This morning I can see that the top floor of the building next door is so empty and open that I can look right through it: in one window, out the other.


Oof, in the wake of the first comment on today's writing, I can see how dislocated and dislocating and disturbing a dream that was (particularly given the range of people who were in my vicinity within the dream--but how could it be otherwise, with my life organized the way it is?). I've told you before that I'm not a Freudian; I'll reassert that now. I don't believe in universal symbols (at least not always). This purse might not have been just a purse, but I refuse to believe that it was what Freud would have made it out to be. (On a job visit once, I made a comment vaguely like that, and someone said, "Any good Freudian would tell you that you're a classic case of resistance." That's part of the reason I'm not a Freudian: I resist theoretical models that leave one absolutely no way out. Things are always more complicated than they at first appear. Things are generally more complicated than theoretical models can account for.)

I am sojourning in a strange city. I see very few people walking around here (though that may partially be because of the weather today). I supposedly can get from building to building without ever going outside--except that I get about 80% of the way to my destination and the signage stops. The wind and the rain buffet and soak everyone who does dare to walk above ground and in the open air. The talk of the morning was the way the outside world whited out overnight; people awakening on the 60th floor of the official conference hotel (where I am not) said that they saw absolutely nothing beyond their windows.

Last night, walking home from the conference hotel, I found myself about a half-block behind a white woman who was shuffling and muttering and sometimes yelling. A group of boys--maybe six, all late-teens, all white--on bikes and skateboards across the street were taunting her. One of them rushed the curb, gestured threateningly across the lanes of fast bright traffic, made as if he were going to cross the street and accost her. I started to wonder what my role in all this would or should be. As I neared her from behind, I had an experience not unlike one that Ttractor described some time ago, telling a story about a group of children she once saw chasing an old woman in a wheelchair down the street outside her house. When she confronted them, those children revealed that the old woman had been shooting up outside their apartment building. When I neared last night's woman, I could hear her hoarsely extolling the virtues of the KKK, at the top of her voice, particularly to the African-Americans she was passing. I ducked my head, turned the corner, made my way here, swiftly. Things are always more complicated than they at first appear, see? What to do.


Where I am, in a handful of images (it's a harder building to shoot than I'd expected):

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Daybreak and nightfall.

There's only one occasion, really, on which I'm going to get pictures like these, and it's if I happen to have had to get on an airplane at 7:45 a.m. and then my airplane happens to have gotten held back because of a flow problem at National.

Flights without incident, from start to finish--leaving aside my inability to stay awake for enough of Sula and the skull-splitting pain I felt when we began our descent into Atlanta. I've never had such pain in my head before; it was bad enough that I imitated Ethan Hawke's pose on the publicity posters for Hamlet for a little while, thinking of my Chicagoan friend saying, "My brain! My brain!" And then it passed.

The hotel in which I'm staying may actually fit into Edmund Burke's ideas about the sublime; it's so crushingly large that it both expands and threatens to obliterate my senses. My eyes have to do far too much repetition even to understand what I'm looking at. My ears pop when I ride the elevator to my floor (35 out of 50). Tomorrow, I will bite the bullet and take pictures in the lobby, simply because this place has to be believed, and you might not believe it unless you see it. (Or maybe you will, and this is all a sign of my increasing acclimation to my tiny town, where our nine-story dorm is the tallest building in the county.) I think they built this place when the Olympics were here. It has 1675 rooms--enough for every student at Kenyon to have a single. I'm not sure why the Academic Mayhem hasn't made its way to downtown Atlanta yet; the two hotels in which I'm spending all my time could accommodate the bulk of the convention. One whole wall of my room is a floor-to-ceiling window. I look out at a peculiar and lovely building, and now (in the nighttime) at a glittering swathe of Atlanta.

Tomorrow, an early start, and massive amounts of Responsibility and Voting.

But first, a wonder: the office building you can see just to the left of the reddish building in my last photo there, all its lights ablaze? All those lights just blinked out, floor by floor, like dominoes falling.

And I doubt I mentioned it, but I am, happily enough, reunited with my computer; it did return in time to come on the trip with me. Everything that was on the machine is gone--but all my programs are sharper and newer, and so it may well have been a blessing.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

O moon.

Did you see the moon as it sank its crescent self low and gold in the west? I thought of you the moment I saw it. It is so true a thing.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The light fantastic.

You know how much I hate not giving you much to read. I especially dislike the fact that writing may be strange and sparse over the next few days, as I do some work-related travelling and sojourning; my auxiliary brain is on its way back to me, but it won't be here, rebooted, and running in time to accompany me when I leave. And so, we'll just have to see how I do while I'm away. It won't be like Ottawa in April, I fear.

And so it is that I'm not particularly thrilled with only giving you pictures today. But I'm doing it, because that's the way things are here right now: the temperature plummeted two days ago; I saw my first snow of the season last night (not long before I lost that hubcap again, possibly for good this time, though I'll check tomorrow and see); today we're wearing scarves. I stomp around town in whatever boots I'm wearing. I Get Things Done. Other Things go unfinished but will get cleared up before departure. It's like that right now.

But oh the flourishing that will happen. You need only look; you'll see it too. I spend much of my time looking up, watching endless reiterations of this picture:

It never gets old.

Monday, October 23, 2006

More and more.

Today, a non-stop day, still not stopped though I'm pushing on well into the night. Grading, teaching, advising, meeting--and then a quick dash back down my favorite stretch of highway for an appointment that could only be scheduled tonight. And then back at it. Only, I'm slowing, and my brain wants to be in sort mode, while I sleep freighted with wools and cottons and fleeces and flannels.

Tomorrow, something more closely resembling thought. For now, enjoy the leaf colors. And if that's not enough, go read some completely cracked job application letters. So very good. I love #17.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

In the wind my rescue is.

I have become a most fearsome procrastinator: a major task that I must complete has gotten the back burner again and again, for ages, and rather than start it this morning, I read Archie Ammons's first book, Ommateum (originally published 1955; rereleased by Norton this month), aloud to myself. I feel good that my procrastinatory techniques are literary and all, but honestly.

Today warm glory has given way to an austere majesty of wind, of restless weather roaming migratorily, of a season coming steadily, unstoppably into its own darker incarnation. Today what was blue is layered in whites and greys innumerable; what was gold is stripping back to skeletal black; what was air is a space of swift turning. I dodged whirling leaves the whole way to the officehouse. Reddened beech, gilding maple, rusty oak. The last of green, on the silver maples and the lingering gingko. Huddled dove in a branch's crook. The squirrels grow more frantic; they palm the bared tree. I eye the light and the clock and think of how things will be a week from now, when the sky will be darkening by 4 p.m.

In the sky, a hawk moving motionlessly, afloat, adip. Yesterday, fifteen hawks circling a small woods on the sunny drive home. The hang, the uplift, the suspension before the killing dive. Today the vultures might show up on the chimney next door; the day feels that way, a bit. And also a bit surreal, especially with the swift turn of the weather: the return visit and swift flight of the sun, the equivocal building toward precipitation, or simply toward threat, the cold, the promise of snow tomorrow. I slept through the snow two weeks ago, woke to wetted ground, chilled air, e-mailed reports blending excitement and incredulity. The theatricality of seasons: that's what we're watching, all over again. I recognize it with a bottle of pop and a roll of chocolate and an admission that if I only do the thing I must do, do it swiftly and well, I might earn an evening of preparing for the burrowing the nearing winter will leave me wanting.

Yesterday, a woman walked up to my friend and said, "I'm your shepherdess." And what is the word for the way we responded? I marveled, eyes opened a little wider. He, to whom she was introducing herself (and to whom, it turns out, she has sold lamb), maintained due gravity. But: a declaration for the ages.

(A postscript--always a postscript: two pieces from Ommateum are the featured poems on Poetry Daily today--but not the section from which I've taken today's title.)

Saturday, October 21, 2006


At the side of the road is a barn, blazing fully red in the full high sun. All around the barn is the sharp palette of fall, colors quietly vivid, blues and golds and browns without name, without comparison. At the side of the barn a sapling is growing, weaving and wavering its way up against those red planks. It is a small barn, but I love it each time I pass it, both coming and going. Going eastward, I cannot see the door stranded in its upper level. Going westward, I always miss the tree.

On the road last night, I realized that I hadn't left you a writing: no note to say that I'd gone or that I'd return. At just about the moment that realization hit me, I also realized that I had no desire to photograph what I was passing, though in the weeks since I've driven those roads, the world has made itself over yet again. Somehow, taking a day off from representation felt transgressive and restful. The sun was finally back out, as of yesterday evening, and I was able to see how the now-gold of the corn is a truly splendescent thing, so different from the brilliance of sunlit yellow leaves. It is, I think, so much itself that I am going to give up my evening's fruitless search for a simile: this corn, it is so gold, it is gold like... No. The corn is its own self's color, today a very transfiguration of yellow and gold.

But the working of water under the fields, as it showed in the aftermath of this week's rain: now, that was a revelation to me. I am, as I may have made clear from time to time, a lover of airplanes and flying. I particularly love seeing water-soaked fields from above--not flooded fields, mind, but fields where some of the ground is visibly saturated, darker than what surrounds it. Fields of subterranean streams, of water fled underground. Yesterday, I could see fields that I knew would be swathed in dark, curling loosely under clearing, if I had seen them from above. But I watched their variegation from a lower angle, loving every moment of shine and sheen where the water had pooled on the surface--all those glints that, from above, would be mirror-flecks but that, from the ground, were gashes of blue sky pulled right into that spilt-over earth.

The sound of trains in the distance last night, as I lay to sleep in the narrow, white-sheeted guest-bed of a generous friend, reminded me of the last time I heard distant trains passing a strange place, and of how I have planned, ever since, to write you a meditation on distant trains. Perhaps tomorrow will be the day for it.

Friday, October 20, 2006

[What you were missing.]

At the time this post is stamped, on the day this post is dated, I was in the locale of these pictures (both taken while traffic was stopped). Of course you'll hear more about this development later--for you may be asking yourself, "How did she manage to slip away from Gambier? And why didn't she tell us she was going?" Carefully, carefully, comes the answer to question no. 1. Oversight, oversight (but perhaps happy, and fortuitous, as oversights go), comes the answer to question no. 2. Later: reflections. Perhaps even musings. Musings about ramblings, even.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Falling still.

Tonight, a slow walk home through the rain: the end of the week is here, though the week is not over. My car key was in my hand by the time I realized that I had walked in this afternoon and thus would be walking back out. The weather holds at a fine point that makes such a realization pleasant rather than dreadful. But the rain: it's been falling for several days now, and soddenness starts to weary me more than I'd like. Fortunately, a lovely thing: we are having a yellow fall, mostly. The northernmost gingko in the line of three down the street from me is yellowing most swiftly; the maple in front of my house has already yellowed and gone bare; the maple that dwarfs my house's south side is losing its yellowed self bit by bit through the rain. But there are trees that, particularly now that they've been inundated, glow their yellow against their black branches' girding and tracing. They leave me staring, startled.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Something possessed me to take a roundabout route to the pharmacy this morning, which afforded me a chance to catch up on what's happening five minutes from the one-mile track to which most of my days get tied if I'm not careful. The road that leaves Gambier, heading eastward, is Wiggin Street. At a four-way stop at the edge of the village, it becomes Zion Road, and cornfields stretch out along the south side of the road. Today, everything was dark enough, even at 11:15 a.m., to make me want to shoot in monochrome these open expanses of corn with even its autumn gold washing out. Suddenly the light seems to have left us, taking our color with it.

By early evening, it was clear to me that it was time to step away from the office. By then, the light had gone enough to render it impossible to photograph colors, and so I switched to black and white, to silhouette and shocked shape, once again. I love two things in particular in these images: that little unexpected curl, and the tremulousness of these small rounds.

Sometimes it happens that when I think about quilts for long periods of time--and perhaps most often when I muse over the quilts that I have loved in my life--I find myself reconsidering the possibility that I should make a quilt of my own. Today I imagined it once again and decided that if I were to do it, it would be itself a monochromatic thing: perhaps a deep red, perhaps a deep red wool, all of one color, all of one piece. My quilting was never extraordinary, certainly not extraordinary enough to make a single-fabric, single-color work worth its salt as craftswomanship. Yet at noon I found myself meditating possibilities, which, after all, is what quilts have always been to me: pure, imperfect potential, artistry that someone very near me has taken care of but taught me to love. I imagine one color, quilted in a color quite near it; I imagine the texture of fabric, the added texture of stitching, the push of the needle again and again, the warmth of a curl under a thing finally accomplished.

But then--for I am home for dinner, home for a brief respite before heading back for more work--I start to page through a catalog of gourmetness and realize that what I'm imagining isn't the quilt itself: it's the alternate life the quilt (and the finishing of a quilt) would represent. I want to make a quilt in much the same way that I want to cook beautiful meals every day. Which is another way of saying, I want to nest. Which is another way of saying, though I'm going back to my office, some part of me is simply marking time, waiting until (it hopes) it too might be integral to these days.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

If there be water, / it is something falling.

Our last two days have been watery ones, putting the county back on flood watch. My house is a thing barely holding out the rain: I awoke in the night to the starting sound of one drop, another, one drop, another, somewhere not far enough from my ear: the ceiling, a second-floor ceiling corner formed in part by an exterior wall of the house, leaking in two places. A seep, a drop. Unstopping.

I studied my book of Amish quilts by lamplight while I got used to the sound of water striking the towel wadded at the bottom of the corner's new bucket: center square, diamond in the square, a four-patch, a nine-patch, bars, more bars. The colors of my younger book-gazing: this book of solid colors and shapes I read now is, at long last, my own copy of a book my mother has owned since it first came out. And yet, a confusion: in my memory, I read this book in the early 1980s: it is my primer for learning Amish quilts. But in reality, the book may not have come out until 1990. It is a sign of how late it's gotten that I am undone by this discrepancy. There must have been another primer for learning these quilts: perhaps a smaller book, paperbound, with a white cover? Perhaps some earlier catalog featuring some of the "Esprit" quilts (which have now made their way back to Lancaster, PA, together)? Only one of you reading will know the answer to these questions: what was I reading when we were still in Buffalo, when I was learning the beauty of those strong, simple patterns, those solid grounds for all the rich elaboration of stitched rounds and angles and sweeps and stops?

I acclimated to the slower rain in the corner of my bedroom, and the swifter stuff outside in the windy dark washed me back to sleep and to something like a fuller focus upon waking. Tomorrow perhaps I will seek to get to you all before I lose that focus again; it happens so much earlier some nights than I expect. I think that my brain has a harder time holding open a meditative space consistently this semester.

My title tonight comes from Cecily Parks's "Self-Portrait as Seismograph," up today at Poetry Daily.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Honeyed nutmeg.

Rain has been falling most of the day, so I slip back to yesterday's photographs. In my usual cyclic way, I am now slowed, regrouping after last week, recharging for the next charge. What was it my friend said this weekend? "You don't do moderation well"? "You don't do moderation"? Both are true. I could perhaps retrain myself, or restrain myself. I could perhaps not want to do either of these things.

Today, I carried armloads of everything, repeatedly. Armloads of computer parts. Armloads of papers. Armloads of books. Armloads of woe. I can only hope that this schlepping will become productive at some soon point. I am startled, still startled, by how much a computer's failure has disrupted my daily work. It turns out that my computer has become an extension of my hands as I do my job; I have spent much of the day learning how to feel with a new set of fingers.

I have emptied my mug of hot milk. On nights when I most need sweetness or settling, I bring in the additives: honey from the bear's head, nutmeg from the little jar. Remembering whole nutmeg in youth, breathing the smell, rattling the bottle. Remembering breakfasts in the yellow kitchen, toast hot from chrome, honey drizzled out of the inverted yellow cone, its pellucidity butter-clouded by knife stroke.

The browning of my world--the quick slip from green through yellow and red to the downed rustiness of what must be crackled through and kicked and then raked--is an unwelcome thing tonight, going on in the dark beyond the house. I have tired too soon but waited too late to sleep. And yet somewhere--somewhere, I think, near those loose knobby ends of my lowest, littlest ribs--is a lightness too steady and serious to be stopped by something so passing as the rain, or a season. And it's that honeyed lightness that lullabies tonight.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


Yes, I know: it's a terrible bit of wordplay. You'll forgive me when you realize that in this picture, if you look at its full-sized version, you may be able to see that leaves have hairs at their tips. Who knew this? Raise your hand if you knew.

One fall, when I was very small, my parents buckled my brother and me into the back of the Malibu and drove us off to Letchworth State Park, the Grand Canyon of the East (or at least of western New York; the park's website calls it "New York State's Grand Canyon of the East," which would seem to make things pretty complicated indeed). Letchworth was about 90 minutes from Buffalo, and the point of the trip was to look at the leaves. I retain a very strong visual memory of one vista: we gazed across what did indeed seem a canyon, to what could have been a mountain to my six year old eyes: a huge hill of maples gone yellow and red. When my mother remembers Letchworth, she says, "That whole hill looked as though it were on fire."

Near where my family lives in Indiana is a state park that used to draw so many leaf-lookers at about this time of year that it was impossible to drive from Columbus to Bloomington in October. I don't know whether people still do this. I never much liked driving around to look at leaves; I generally wanted to get home and do my homework before Monday.

But today, it was leaves for me, for no small time this evening, just as the sun hit its most gold moment. "What did you get?" asked a student who saw me shooting the beech near the officehouse. I showed her. And then I went off to get some more.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Study in orange.

So much goodness here today: laughter in the morning, visits in the afternoon, dinner guests at night. We are full. We are happy. We are, as at our best, emulating the dragon: poised on top of the pumpkin, if not the world itself.

Friday, October 13, 2006

I felt the sky open up right inside my chest.

This beauty was happening all over the place today, which took some of the edge off of a silly (and, in its aftermath, somewhat painful) accident I had earlier that put my laptop out of commission--perhaps for the best, since now I cannot do things like use the computer in bed, and when it comes back it will probably have a new hard drive, which will increase the computer's longevity. I have a hard time imagining that it would have lasted another 18 months with me, really, not the way I've been using it lately. But (or and?) I was startled by how sorry I was to leave it behind with the tech liaison who could cure it. I didn't realize how much affection I've come to have for that inanimate object. Another good reason, one might argue, that it's away from me for awhile. And really, if coffee was going to douse one of my trusty electronic devices, I'm glad it was the computer and not the camera. Darned slippery floors.

The wind swelled up this afternoon. After my last class, I walked back to the officehouse through an ocean's rush of oak leaves. After more talking in the officehouse, site of so much excellent speech over the past few weeks, I walked home past pillars of flame.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


And what was your favorite part of the day? Was it the clear, cold illumination of fall sunlight as you tooth-chattered home this morning?


Was it the student who taught you about why buying a round of corndogs is a savvy move in the college bar?

No, though that was an unexpected uproarious moment, there at the end of a long day.

Was it feeling like a rock star when seemingly everyone you've ever taught showed up to hear you lecture?

No, though joking about a mosh pit for Hopkins and then realizing that suddenly it didn't feel like a joke--that was a great moment. And you have to admit that the applause was beyond what you expected, and that you loved it when students came to you afterwards to share the things that they see and love, and that one student beamed at you the pride she'd felt that that was her teacher up there, speaking. Yes, I wouldn't deny any of those things. They are so much the matter of my heart.

Well, then, was it the near-midnight walk home under the sleet-glittered umbrella, feeling your legs starting to loosen up with sheer fatigue?

No, though the rat-tatting of the season's swift change was strangely restful.

Stop guessing, already: it was feeling so fully cared about, at every turn over the course of the night, as though everyone made a deal that this was the day I should know. I feel myself cocooned, considered, held. I am startled to find myself startled by care, startled to find myself at once less clear on how to accept it and more desrious of embracing it than I knew.

And more tired than I had any idea, my toes starting to twitch and hop impatiently.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Growl and tooth-gnash: I am meant to be writing, and I love the piece I'm meant to be working on, and yet I sit and stare and stare. The story is old and tired, writer alone in the night with fingers itching to type words that don't want to come out and play. Tricks: there are tricks. Thirty minutes and then I can stop. Or: pick any word and just start to write. Or: eat some more M&Ms. Or: oh! sit and talk to someone about things completely unrelated to what needs to be written. And laugh and laugh. Yes. Check-plus.

And then: back to it. The greatness. The greatness is coming. Or, more like: may the greatness be coming. Eat the last two M&Ms, both green. Play relievo with your own words.

I awoke this morning to a double falling: rain on leaves on ground. Our yellow trees denuding swiftly. The yard's big tree half-bare by dark, the dark having stormed coldly in an hour early. The slide, the quick slide, the fall into fuller fall, until you realize the strangeness of winter's not starting until after the darkest hollow of the year. The freeze warnings are on, snow soon to follow. Thank goodness for this cabinet's flowers, the green shut petals and seeds like stars.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Heel-tap and leaf-crush.

Tonight, I pay with heavy eyes for last night's quiet vigil, for the pre-dawn walk home through silent streets, for the lullaby that grew under my tongue as I crept through the leaves. I would do it again. The secret is not to regret. The secret is to write down the lullaby as soon as you're in the door, to try for the sounds, to watch lullaby turn incantatory, hopeful for the disposition of those not near. The secret is to ask for the tongue's lilt to slow, for the spine to unfurl while the thumbed palm falls open. The secret is to promise to guard the moon.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The concatenation continues.

Tonight is one of those nights: I feel as though I could sit here at this wooden ship of a desk and pilot my way through an archipelago of hours. I could be here when the sun comes glinting at the eastern window, just as I was here when the sun went winking at the west. For the first time in months, if not longer, I'm pulling together a fairly large-scale piece of writing that is both creative and critical, both professional and amateur, both a work obligation and a labor of love. It is teacherly work, and I am in love with the very process of it. It is also theatrical work, and I am in love with the very thought of performing it. Whether or not I will actually indulge in an all-nighter (we are on break, after all) is another thing. But somehow, it feels as though this might not be a bad time for it, depending on how moved I'm feeling in another couple of hours.

Today has been my father's birthday, but I'd be thinking about him while doing tonight's writing in any case, because the lecture I'm developing is about learning how to be creative in the world, and he's a big part of the reason I know how to say what I want to say. Another big part is, of course, my mother; wish them a happy wedding anniversary, if you're so inclined, since they're celebrating thirty-six years tomorrow.


Rather than tell you more about the lecture, I'm going to offer you some of the fragments that are clamoring to get into it. But first, for sheer absurdity's sake (not least because a friend's got me thinking about surrealism this week), please note the found poem I discovered in tonight's Sitemeter record of search words that have brought people to the Cabinet:
trespass acrylic hats
amish iron bell clapper
"hello whoever you are" "whitman"
elizabeth barrett elope "father's line"
roygbiv puzzle donkey answer
anapests dactyls whitman "song of myself"
It's a veritable treasure trove of strangeness. "Peristerophobia," weirdly enough, is the single word most commonly leading people along to this site, though variations on "Dr. Boom Lightning Rods" are, collectively, at the top of the list, right up there with variations on "qui sas" lyrics. I have to wonder about "anapests dactyls whitman 'song of myself,'" because in the past day I've gotten two hits from the same state--though not the same school--for that very sequence of words. Are the students of Michigan all writing essays on Whitman's meter right now? And are they all, ahem, flocking to blogs? I almost feel as though I should write an authoritative-sounding post full of nonsense; if I could feel even reasonably sure that such a thing would teach anyone a useful lesson, I'd do it. (Don't go around plagiarizing, is all I'll say here. It's a waste of everyone's time. Actually read Whitman yourself. You might enjoy him. An anapest is two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed; a dactyl is one stressed followed by two unstressed. Go do some thinking.)

Speaking of doing some thinking:

The words I've been constellating today: transcend; collage; attention/attend/attentive; collect; intimate; love; amateur; rapt; album; nest.

Fierce wandering: my beloved.

Even junk e-mail plays along: "Fix your situation Hannah," said one spam message today. "electricity and shore up the precarious sections.... Tomb 5 is a completely different story."

La Luna, from La Lotería, and suddenly I'm angry all over again that someone stole my La Luna t-shirt thirteen years ago.

"Fear of making mistakes can itself become a huge mistake, one that prevents you from living," Rebecca Solnit writes in A Field Guide to Getting Lost, "for life is risky and anything less is already loss."

One of my dear colleagues found me a bird's empty, fallen nest outside the officehouse this afternoon. It is now on my Shelf of Finds.

Elaine Scarry theorizes beauty, and I want to believe her: "Something beautiful fills the mind yet invites the search for something beyond itself, something larger or something of the same scale with which it needs to be brought into relation.... [Beauty] comes to us, with no work of our own; then leaves us prepared to undergo a giant labor.... It is as though beautiful things have been placed here and there throughout the world to serve as small wake-up calls to perception, spurring lapsed alertness back to its most acute level. Through its beauty, the world continually recommits us to a rigorous standard of perceptual care" (On Beauty and Being Just 29, 53, 81). Is she right that "beauty is a call" (109)? I think so. Is she right to argue that "[a]t the moment we see something beautiful, we undergo a radical decentering" (111)? I want to believe. But belief, here, requires some degree of faith in humanity that I'm suddenly afraid I don't have.

I turn back to Annie Dillard, all these months later, all these years after first reading. She catches the problem that beauty might simply be missed--that the transaction Scarry identifies as one basis of moral life might simply not happen, not least because it's difficult sometimes: "This looking business is risky" (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek 23). She exhorts her readers to show up, in a moment I plan to invoke in the lecture: "[B]eauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there" (8).

And what does this have to do with quilting? With charms? Charm: another word in the constellation. As also perceive. And what is it to deliver a love lecture. And what is it to sit here with tiny sheets of paper proliferate. To make a verb describe. To quarry a thought by papering a desk. To be doing this work of piecing and cobbling and crafting again. To reveal what parts of "the secret constellations of [my] irrecoverable past" (Solnit 186).

And what of the moon?

To redefine amateur for one's audience, to strip back the pejorative connotation, to throw the very word into the breach, to defy trajectories that stunt and maim. One who loves or is fond of. The agent who loves.

"I am no amateur of these melons," comes a Mrs. Atkinson's Tartar Steppes to say, for the OED's 1863 example.

Nesting, shaping, feathering: the work of picking things and packing them goes on.

I believe that I have forgotten to mention what I learned two nights ago about my birth: I arrived only thirty minutes before a full moon rose. Nothing has made more sense to me in years.

Hopkins, as always. "Hurrahing in Harvest" (1877), the autumnal world "barbarous in beauty" (l. 1), the speaker enraptured by beauty, by landscape, by divinity:
These things, these things were here and but the beholder
Wánting; whích two whén they ónce méet,
The heart rears wings bold and bolder
And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet.
(ll. 11-14)
And I, I here, I sit here, but I also, as always, "wálk, I líft up, Í lift úp heart, éyes" (l. 5).

They will see only me, but a multitude will be speaking.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

More rambles.

After a morning and early afternoon of reading and writing in bed, cup of coffee at my side, I finally emerged at midday to wash dishes and begin to make plans for the evening. Just when I thought I knew what I was going to be up to, my excellent friend showed up at the back door and invited me on a long walk. And so I went, and gathered more things, more shadows and shapes and shafts of light. My favorites all came from this one plant, early in the walk:

We were bedeviled by small children on smaller bikes; we gave the dog water from a squeezy sport bottle; we stopped for long breaks on the trestle bridge over the autumn-shallow river. We returned to Gambier in the near-dark. The dog collapsed on the floor. The night grew darker and cooler around the warm house where we all sat, together, catching the little breather our break has brought us.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Spots of dusk.

The afternoon hours were glorious and sun-mellowed for another day in a row. The landscape's palette deepens day by day--though, I'm so happy to say, we are not yet done with flowers. ("Aren't they beautiful?" the woman who got out of her car as I perched beside this flower said. "They're called mallow. I have them in my yard." In Gambier, people will offer you random thoughts like this.)

I continue to try to get pictures of our trees commensurate with their blazing. Partly for this purpose, and partly to see what I could see, I headed down the hill to the environmental center just before dusk.

The closer I got, the better the sights became. There were flying things (see the geese? at first they did not honk, and they were so far away):

I cast a shadow as long as the hill's highway is wide. By the time I hit the bottom of the valley, I had lengthened out my stride and fairly flew to the prairie space where I could wander along the path in the shoulder-high plants. And that's when the night grew interesting indeed.

Walking the four-foot cut through these stalks and stems, I realized I was dipping through pockets of radically different temperatures, warm as if still sun-warmed one moment, then chill with the coming night the next. Small birds took the air, startled at my approach. The night insects shrilled and whistled slowly; their sheer, continuing number surprised me. Occasionally, I would find myself about to walk face-first into a living constellation, a silent swarm. Without my having planned it this way, it became a walk for finding final flowers and silhouetted seeds, an irregular geometry of passage.

I am meditating on a lecture I'll deliver here next week, and meditating on the lecture is helping me think about how a walk like tonight's works as meditation for me. A camera in the palm of my hand fragments what I see into individual shots, certainly, but it also makes what's in those shots visible to me with a different range of patterns and meanings than when I apprehend it as something that will have continued existence only in my memory, or in my words. Having traced barns and flowers for so much of the spring and summer, I find myself collecting seeds and fruits now. Tonight, I think I was also collecting darknesses, trying them on for size, thinking about how the last ten weeks of our slide into the dark of the year will feel. As I walked back up the hill toward home, the eastern sky was its late-dusk deepening pastels, and the sun was well gone already, though it was only 7:15.

It is that moment in the autumn, then, when I feel fully that the darkness is coming; this moment comes every autumn, often right around the time the trees begin to reduplicate the sun at midday. Last year wasn't too bad. I'm hoping that this year won't be, either: so far, I seem to continue finding growth, and possibly even being growth itself, even as the temperatures lower and all that has been green shifts to every shade of brown and gold one might imagine. This year, I'm actually looking forward to watching the patterns around me keep changing into things I not only don't remember but also can't foresee.