Thursday, November 30, 2006

Look at me and be color.

I'm borrowing my title from Tzara's "The Liontamer Remembers" (translated by Mary Ann Caws). Tonight I conjure color because the acid green sliding across the midwest's radar drained most of the color out of the day, pulled it right down the highway leading off the hill, along with all that coursing of water.

And I conjure in honor of Dan Beachy-Quick's visit today, which culminated in a splendid reading from Spell and Mulberry and some new work, too. It's beautiful work, all of it, and if you haven't read him yet, you should get his stuff. If you are a fan of Moby-Dick, Spell is the book for you. And then there was a dinner, what a dinner, full of spiderwebs and bird-catching and family stories and the artists whose works we'd be if our lives were works by artists. "I live in a Bosch," my friend said. I, shy, suggested that I'd like to believe I'm living in a Joseph Cornell. Our visitor chided me for hesitation. I explained that it seemed like too good a thing to claim for oneself. (To be that close to a paper moon, I thought to myself. To pirouette with those plastic lobsters. To jump from block of ice to block of ice, remembering Marie Taglioni's moonlit dance on the highway. To peer right in to those vials of sand. To float in one of those tiny infinities.)

At some point during the dinner, for some reason I can no longer remember, I brought up the fiction-writer Amanda Davis, who died suddenly in a plane crash in March 2003. I didn't know Amanda Davis (though my beloved Brooklynite's husband did), but I somehow heard about her death right after it happened--though, again, I can no longer remember why that was. In the aftermath of her death, I was touched deeply by the page of testimonials McSweeney's Internet Tendency posted, and which they've left up ever since, as I found when I got home and checked. It's a vast and deeply humane collection of memories and sorrows. The one that pulls at me most, always--as in, has since I read it on March 18 or so in 2003--is the one from her partner, Anthony Schneider. It's worth quoting in part, because it's just so lovely, and so heart-breaking, and so worth letting stand on its own as the end of tonight's writing:

Sometimes, when we were sitting around talking, or eating dinner, or in the middle of a party, or just walking down the street, you would pull me toward you, out of the blue, and say, with great urgency: I just love you, so much.

You had the softest skin and the sweetest smell of any person ever, and lying with you, wherever we were, felt like home.

You made the world a better place and me a better person.

You touched and loved and encouraged and listened and chided and cared.

There is a hole in my heart as big as the universe. And you are painted on it.

I just love you, so much.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

In a silent film, this sky would want stars.

(That's your early cinema trivia for the day: when you see a blue-tinted scene in a silent film, you know it's nighttime. Film technology couldn't accommodate night shooting until several decades in, not until panchromatic film was introduced, and so blue tint signified night.)

A lovely thing happened to me last night and today: I've only just now realized how lovely, seeing part of its printed-out results. When my excellent poet colleague (who is away this year) came to town a couple of weeks ago, I wrote her a tiny poem. Yesterday, she sent me a poem she'd written for me (a response to "The Night Deer," which you may recall from June). Last night, I sent her another tiny poem I'd written, this time for myself, about the same bird who was in the first poem I'd sent her. And this morning I returned from my first class to find several pages of notes and suggestions--of reading--all in response to my little pseudosonnet, which is (as her labor over it lets me know she knows) no little thing for me at all, not in a week like this, not in a semester like this, not in a life like this.

And so the seven pages I've now pulled from the printer are a new nest: a poem speaking to a poem speaking to a poet speaking to one who wants to believe herself a poet but who still looks over her shoulder in the tiniest way when the name is offered to her, when she gets grouped in, included. "Where did all that come from?" my excellent poet colleague asks at the end of her message. "Homage; company." Company? Really? And yet I know well enough that I only write seriously to work I take seriously. I flush with pleasure, and gratitude, and I realize how much I miss her, all at once.

And what's more, she wasn't the only person to engage with that same little poem; my young poet friend, off writing his own adventures, helped me wrestle some of the clunkinesses and placeholders out last night even before I sent the poem off to my colleague. I had sent him the poem almost apologetically: it is so small a thing, just a sketch, line 5 does nothing. He sent it back full of provocations and requests for more. It seems I'm not alone in thinking that maybe there's something here to stoke; these recognitions are the beacon lights of these waiting days.

"You're coming out as a poet, you know," said another poet friend earlier in the semester. "That's what this is all about."

He was right: that is what this is all about. Sometimes I misread. Sometimes I think a blue sky is just blue, when instead it's night and I've been called to constellate.

Have I told you yet how much I'm scheming for new eyes? And how much grander will be my mode, come January? We're nearly at the bottom of the year. Just you wait for the turnaround.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Rescue, nearly.

A photograph on another's blog (of a bookmark that I, too, have) has reminded me today of this poem, toward which I have been known (if only by myself) to turn.

Poetry to the Rescue

You must be
nearly lost
to be (if
found) nearly
                  --A. R. Ammons

And as I type it in, and as I give this writing a title, I realize that I do not know the etymology of "rescue." From where do we get this word? And so I prowl to the word's home, and this is what I find there.
rescue, v.
[a. OF. rescou-, reskeu-, etc., stem of rescoure, -cure, -keure, -corre, etc. (F. recourre), = It. riscuotere:--Rom. type *reex-cutere: see RE- and EXCUSS v.]
1. a. trans. To deliver (a person) from the attack of, or out of the hands of, assailants or enemies.
b. To liberate by unlawful force from legal custody. Also in fig. context.
2. a. To deliver (a castle, town, etc.) from siege.
b. To recover, take back by force.
3. To deliver or save (a person or thing) from some evil or harm. Also freq. without const. spec. in Bridge, to make a rescue bid.
4. refl. To save or deliver (oneself) in some respect.
5. absol. To afford deliverance or safety. rare.

re-, prefix
of Latin origin, with the general sense of ‘back’ or ‘again’

excuss, v. (obs.)
[f. L. excuss- ppl. stem of excutere, f. ex- out + quatereto shake; the vb. had also the sense of searching a person by shaking his loose robe. Cf. sense 2.]
1. trans. To shake off, cast off, get rid of. Said with reference to things material and immaterial.
2. To shake out the contents of anything; hence, to investigate thoroughly, discuss (a question or document); also, to get (the truth) from (a person).
3. Mod. Civ. Law. [Cf. OF. escosser, escousser, ‘saisir, dépouiller’ (Godef.).] To seize, take in execution (a debtor's goods).
It's that first definition of "excuss" that I like best, or maybe some combination of the first and second that makes rescue a shaking back, a casting off again, a shaking out of one's loose robe, a getting the truth back once more. To find safety and deliverance therein. To save oneself by shaking off, getting rid. And recovering, only to deliver oneself from these assailants again, later.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Scenes from a returning.

After the sun had come to rest in the tree, I drove away, drove until I reached the openness, drove until I came out its other side. Where the rows are already hills. Where there is more to be said. Where more silence settles.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Herding leaves.

I hate a task that wastes my time, and raking leaves is just such a one. I spent the better part of this evening leaf-blowing and leaf-raking, and I'm not at all happy about it. While I was working, I tried to find the poetry in what I was doing, and what I kept coming back to was the idea of how frustrating and sad it is to shepherd a dead season around a yard, and how much less of use than shepherding living things. At one point, knees-deep in the last pile, I thought of the times when I or my friends and loved ones have found ourselves stopped by livestock: cars surrounded by sheep, buses stalled before goats. A friend of mine once weathered a storm of sheep just by standing still.

The bottom line is that I do not enjoy yardwork, in any way, not even if the weather is nice.

Before the frustration started, we had a lovely day here. Mid-Ohio is setting high temperature records; we pushed into the mid-60s today. Best of all was the sun, which feathered this strange tree (which I pass often but never research) so nicely:

It's looking as though pictures from yesterday's drive will wait until tomorrow. (Unnecessary temporal complication? Yes. Not as good as spam frivolity, but it will have to do.)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Yes: frivolity.

From now on, I am going to take many cues from this (relineated) bit of a spam message that awaited me upon my return to Gambier:
That's my lab table
and this is my work stool
and over there is
my intergalactic spaceship

Quite an occasion
to start things
up again.

Three hours later:

Now, imagine me as Charlotte from Making Fiends, saying "Wow!" Curious about whether or not the lines of text in that spam message were from anything, I googled them--and it turns out that the spam was generating out of someone else's blog. My first "stanza," then, comes from this guy's quoting Futurama one day (some of you may already have picked up on this; I am not a TV watcher and thus don't have a very broad allusion base there); my second comes from his remarking upon something that motivates him to restart his blog. Such strange circles! (And if some thing starts random-generating out of my blog, what will it choose? Where will my words go? Staggering!)

Tomorrow I'll show you what I saw on the way home this afternoon.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Un voyage de mystère.

Long-time readers may recall that, one day when I was in Indiana last January, I took my brother on a mystery trip. Today, he returned the favor. "It'll take about an hour and a half to get there. There are two parts. Both parts are open from 10-5. I'll pick you up at 11." That's all he told me before this morning; it's more than one can usually hope for, in the way of information leading one to a mystery trip. At 11:15 he arrived (cannily having figured that if he showed up a bit late, I'd be ready to go); by 12:30, we were rounding this corner in Indianapolis

heading for the Indianapolis Children's Museum, where Dale Chihuly's Fireworks of Glass installation is now on permanent display. The installation has a 43-foot tower and also one of Chihuly's trademark glass ceilings, which allows viewers to walk underneath his glass pieces. Now, I know that some people don't love Chihuly's work. I happen to be someone who does love it, almost always, for the sheer extravagance of its colors and shapes, and for the way it transforms whatever space it enters. And so, bless my brother's heart, this trip was exactly what I needed, in ways that even I didn't know, not even when we were lying on our backs on a motorized, circular couch-thing, looking up at the ceiling and taking pictures of the colors and shapes above us. It's been a long, long time since I've let myself just get swallowed by a piece of art.

I can tell you that you're going to see a lot more of my pictures of the ceiling; I took picture after picture, and these lights and shapes are going to be vital. I'm not planning to be stingy.

For now, just trust that my brother and I followed the rules

and (after a brief detour through the Scienceworks room, where we were able not only to build an arch out of vinyl-covered foam blocks but also to throw fake rocks at one another) successfully proceeded to the second stage of the mystery trip, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where we saw the Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt exhibition. As we neared the museum and the Gee's Bend banners came into view, I suddenly remembered that my mother had mentioned in passing, just after I arrived on Wednesday, that the quilts were in town. She and I, you may recall, saw them in Boston in 2005 (though all evening I've been marveling at my good fortune in having gotten to see them twice in one year--one more marker of how swiftly time is passing for me these days). I was overjoyed at the thought of getting to see the exhibition again--and touched that my brother knew so well and fully how settling and comforting I would find seeing the quilts.

But things got even better: the exhibition turned out not to be the one my mother and I had already seen. Instead, it's a new one, incorporating some of the pieces I'd already seen, along with many others (themed around houses and buildings, chiefly) from the 1920s all the way through 2005, which means that many of the quilts on display have actually been produced since the Gee's Bend quilts started touring the U.S. in 2002. In fact, one of the women whose work is now featured turns out to have started quilting after having visited the Houston show that inaugurated the quilts' traveling; on the plane home to Gee's Bend, she started seeing visions of quilts, and she hasn't stopped quilting since. Now, I wasn't able to take pictures for you, but rest assured that you will feel the benefits of my having seen them (and not just because they were so utterly a recharge). And, for goodness sake, if you live near Indianapolis, hie your way to the art museum sometime between now and December 31 and see this exhibition. Go here for more information about the Gee's Bend quilters, as well as a schedule of where and when the quilts will travel next. You can't imagine the colors and textures and patterns you're in for.

There's more to say, but how am I going to tell you about the beauty of corduroy arranged and quilted to produce a texture richer than velvet, or about how stunning the abstract rectangle of a free-hand cut and pieced quilt can be? How, on a night when I've seen both Casino Royale and Blacula? (I highly recommend both, by the way.) And on a night when I have a long, deaf dog sighing and snoring in the other half of the bed? This time tomorrow, I'll be back on my own; you'll hear more about the quilts and the glass then. For now, enjoy seeing the original of this famous piece:

as well as a glimpse of my home landscape, in one of its most starkly lovely incarnations.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanks for what has been given.

There will always be the wanting.

Last night, for instance: on the road, in the home stretch, 24 miles to go, a red neon restaurant sign: Prime Tim. Tim instead of Time, the crucial absence. And a stoplight, just long enough to grab the camera, catch a picture. But no. It's a fast stoplight, there in the middle of the southern Indiana almost-empty night. And in the dark exposures take more time. So I end up with something for which I did not try, a lovely thing I have not earned, an electric aurora. And I drive through my ribbon of illumination alongside the night-dark cornfields thinking, for the first time in months, of my friend Tim, whom I have not seen in a decade.

So, may there always be the wanting. Look where it leads.

Today, I bake and grade and listen to the sounds of others in a house. Voices go up and down the halls below my perch; the dog's toenails keep time irregularly while she paces the dinner that has been in the making all day. More silverware makes it to the table. And in my imagination, a similar series of pacings and clickings and clatterings and preparations: dinners being masterminded in all manner of places. Almost no one I know and love is having Thanksgiving where he or she lives this year; we have dispersed, evacuated our homes, pulled inexorably back to where we're from. I know that I will not unfurl on this trip, that the uncoil, the rebound, the reach and the rest will all wait until I'm fully here, after the Academic Mayhem next month. But it's still a loveliness to be at least partly here, in the blue room above the bright kitchen and the warm smells.

Among the many things for which I'm grateful: getting to be at the center (in my own mind, you see; read your Middlemarch) of this collection of far-flung yous who circle my life, however distant you are from my presence (or even from my awareness; I leave room for those of you I have not yet found, or may already have lost). Be safe and careful and good and loved, today and always.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Scenes from a leaving.

I drove away, and then I drove for a long time with all the other drivers who were driving, and then I drove up, and now I am about to sleep in this particular elsewhere.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Let us now praise books and verse.

Today, for the first time in my three years at this place, I managed to be in town for employee appreciation day at the bookstore, which meant 30% off of anything I cared to buy. I cared to buy. Bibliomania might be too gentle a word for the condition with which I live. I won't say it's a condition I suffer, though it's had its downsides over the years (not least, the high monetary and physical costs of moving two tons of books even the short distance from upstate New York to central Ohio). Book buying is an experience of greatest comfort and reassurance to me. It is a peopling of my world. It is a finding of voices that teach me better how to sing and to sorrow, how to hold myself open even when the light wanes and frost follows roof-shadows to stripe the lawns of my waking.

I am in pursuit of ecstasy in this life of mine; I suspect you've got my number by now, those of you who read here consistently. I suspect that things would go more easily with me if I settled for a middle road; in risking myself, I all too often (especially this year, it would seem) come collapsing back in pained frustration. But there's a reason for my enduring love of that Matisse paper-cutting of Icarus. That's what it's like to be me, there with that burning coal reddening the breast. I don't burn low. And often I end up consuming myself. But oh, I'd rather have this fierceness than something more tepid. I'm going to continue gambling that this choice (if choice it is) will pay off--if in no other way than in my knowing that I'm living all the way up, to the best of my ability. The numbers all go to eleven here. It's a life of lava-lymph.

And yet it is a tempered ecstasy I'm after. The reason yesterday's word-find settled me so much and so deeply is that I've been trying to center in, this week, to quiet and collect and compose myself after many weeks of having lost my focus altogether. All day I have been drawing strength from this new exhalation that "elne" represents to me. It's just possible that one of my rings will be picking up an interior engraving during the remainder of the week, so that the word is always there among my reminders, pressed to the flesh of one of the fingers with which I do the work I have been given.

One of things that has come to center me this year, more than any year in my life, is reading poetry. It's so strange a thing: I feel myself a complete novice in the company of poetry, and of poets for that matter. Nothing widens my eyes quite as having poetry read to me does; nothing makes me feel more like Maggie Tulliver in Mill on the Floss, when George Eliot describes her as having her soul "played the inexorable power of sound." When Maggie listens to music, Eliot tells us, "You might have seen the slightest perceptible quivering through her whole frame as she leaned a little forward, clasping her hands as if to steady herself; while her eyes dilated and brightened into that wide-open, childish expression of wondering delight, which always came back in her happiest moments" (bk. 6, ch. 7). Great rushes of sound are what work on Maggie's soul. In just the right mood, I too can be swayed by music. But what sways me more than anything is language at its best. Poetry, read aloud, plays me (to borrow from that chapter of Eliot's novel one more time) as if I were "constructed of musical strings."

It has been one of the richnesses of my semester to get to hear reading after reading here, and we're not quite finished yet. And it's one of the delights of my day that I'll leave it with two new books of verse. One is not, strictly speaking, new: it's Ilya Kaminsky's Dancing in Odessa (2004). Kaminsky opens his volume with an Author's Prayer, the end of which I love quite a lot:
Even sleep is a prayer, Lord,

I will praise your madness, and
in a language not mine, speak

of music that wakes us, music
in which we move. For whatever I say

is a kind of petition, and the darkest
days must I praise.
I love the beginning of it, as well, but I'm not going to quote the whole thing. You should read this book.

The other book that goes with me out of my day is the just-arrived Drunk in Sunlight, by my excellent poet colleague Danny Anderson. I'm super thrilled to recommend this book, of which I actually will own two copies soon enough, since I managed not to cancel my Amazon order in time after having placed an order directly with Johns Hopkins UP. (Somehow I managed to misremember the publication date. I blame They Call Me Naughty Lola, that collection of LRB personal ads [which is forthcoming in December] that you know I pre-ordered the moment it was titled.) Anyway: you too should own a copy. Click the sunflower. Place an order.

Even greater than my blessing in getting to attend so many poetry readings this semester has been the blessing of simply getting to be around both Danny and my other poet colleague, G.C. Waldrep. Their aesthetics are completely different, and when they did a double-header reading in September, I think we all waited to see what the effect would be--which is not to say that any of us thought it would be anything but splendid. Instead, I think we were waiting to see what kind of splendid it would be, if splendidness can be taxonomized. (Not a one of us was anything less than thrilled, might I add.)

I'd read Danny's work (you, too, can read it here and here and here; these pieces are all from the new book), and I already knew how terrific he is as a person, even before the end of September. But what emerged from hearing the poems aloud, and hearing the stories he tells about his works, is the gentle dryness of humor that animates him as a person and that becomes a quiet, graceful, profoundly generous wisdom and wry loveliness in his poems. The poems themselves are eminently approachable. They are about a world you may know, and they reach to your ear in language you probably use. They work in formal rhyme and meter--these are not free verse works--but their technique is never obtrusive. It is light and deft, inviting you onward and building its powerful, even devastating, effects through an accumulation of genuine humility. So it is that "Question," from midway through Drunk in Sunlight, can ask at an early moment, "Is this a ghost of summer camp?" (even as the facing page begins with "The sudden whipcrack clarity of love") but can then build to a meditation on the experience of feeling a poem take shape in and from and for the world around a watching poet:
The dragonflies, they come again
Like blue allusions, silks of thought.
They jostle, tease, and occupy

The strangest quarters of your mind,
Enchanting, sometimes troubling, too,
The restless province of your eye.
It's simply a lovely book, and by simply I mean deceptively so. It is the right thing to be reading as the days darken down; its poem "First Frost," just for another instance, is harrowing and consoling all at once in its flickering revelation of coming winter, of inevitable death. This collection is one among many things to give thanks for this year. Let the restless province of your eye be troubled, and enchanted.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Elne, elne, elning.

Enough already, I say. It's time to get on with things. Stop with the wheel-spinning, the tooth-gnash, the hands-on-hips protest against things as they are. They are as they are. Enough. Get going.

It's been that kind of day. We're on break, but break means "a stop in the daily routine long enough to clear out the things that were meant to be done weeks ago." And I am impatient with my own sorry suffering. And I am impatient with all that has built up and blocked me from being able to be clear, for weeks and weeks. And so I say: get going.

And yet: tonight, a walk off the east side of the hill, down to my beloved classicist friend's house for tea and dinner. And on the walk, the sun, for the first time in days. And though I was walking away from it, and though it was in speedy decline though it was only 4:30, it was still just what I required.

And then, upon returning to the officehouse for more painstakingly slow grading, the gift of new words. I found them while checking up on "eloquent" in the OED. I pass them on to you, because if you are anything like me (which you might not be), they might be just what you require. You will want to pronounce these first two "EHLnuh," I believe, when you start working them back into the English language; they are all obscure words whose last citations in the OED date to around the middle of the thirteenth century.
elne, n. Strength, courage (also, in Old English, zeal); in theology, strength vouchsafed, comfort, grace.

elne, v.
To strengthen, hearten, comfort.

elning, vbl. n. Comfort, grace.

Somehow the noun "elne" seems to me one of the most sustaining things I've heard in a long time. It has a sound so solid, a sound that is itself the simple, unshakeable strength the word signifies.

Elning to all of you tonight, you my readers and my non-readers.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

What we have instead of fire, some nights.

Coming home from the pharmacy this afternoon, I saw a wild turkey standing in a neighbor's yard. It stood so still that I doubted my sight and went around the block to be sure that my neighbors hadn't bought a lawn turkey. By the time I got back to their corner, the turkey was limping across the highway. It's been a strange fall.

One of my favorite things about my institution's academic calendar is our week-long Thanksgiving vacation. We--by which I mean everyone in this tiny place--drive ourselves right up to the Friday before the holiday, and then we flee for a week (even if only to our own living rooms), and then we come back and drive ourselves through a last few weeks. In some ways, it's the most intense time of the year, especially for those of us who have seasonal affective disorder or anything like it. The vacation comes just before one breaking point, and I think its length staves off another. If I'm diligent--which I will be once again, in just a short time--I can accomplish the work I need to do and still get a few days of rest.

In the meantime, I've discovered the Be Good Tanyas. I don't understand why I didn't find them sooner.

So: this afternoon found me, come off yesterday's day of rest, sailing through our wintering palette--which, despite my love of brightness and my loathing of early dark, I have to admit I may love more than the summer's colors. Our shades of steel and straw are manifold these darkening days. There's a sadness to the sun's tentative appearances, and to the wash they give to the world's blacks and browns and pale blues, that offers me its own beauty this year. And with the fields cleared, my barns are blending differently than they have for months; white walls and a rusted roof grow differently from winter furrows than from their summer selves.

My world is remaking itself yet again, and in response I find myself wanting new eyes. I start making plans.

I make my plans by reading, as I have always done, as I cannot remember not doing. I gather my pieces, my curiosities, my talismen. I will show you my shards. Tristan Tzara, for one: "I speak of the one who speaks who speaks I am alone / I am only a little sound I have several sounds in me" (Approximate Man, part I). And the end of Elizabeth Bishop's "The Monument":
It may be solid, may be hollow.
The bones of the artist-prince may be inside
or far away on even drier soil.
But roughly but adequately it can shelter
what is within (which after all
cannot have been intended to be seen).
It is the beginning of a painting,
a piece of sculpture, or poem, or monument,
and all of wood. Watch it closely.
I am watching. I am. I've been given a different range of things to watch this week; I am not facing the things I had expected. I believe that this means that roughly but adequately I'm sheltering some other beginning. Watch closely.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Tonight (if I could) I would light a fire.

When I'd reeled my heart back in, palms wearied and blistered in their labor over the spool I turned out to have been holding all the while, I did indeed ask it where it had been and what it had seen.

All are where they're supposed to be, it told me: He is taking his pictures. He is missing his wife. She is piecing her projects. She is barking obscure dreams in her sleep. She is rocking her baby. He is loving his small friend the wooden 2, dreaming of his cube. He is watching television, thinking about savings.
He is writing his poems, dreaming of what he wishes for his life. She is cradling a small body with her ampling one. He is standing at a podium singing the songs of his yearning. They are settling in with their furry boy. Some of them are up north. Some are west, some east. A few are even south, and more will be there soon. When you start listing you think of more and more and you realize that you don't even know where some of them are. And they are so scattered and they are all constellated and they are all unknowing in their quiet places in the loose confederation of your self, they are all scratches circling this candle, your small flame to the glass in this small town's large dark.

And yes I said yes, I would light a bigger fire, circle everyone up, settle them all down. From here the best I can do is sing them to sleep. Gentle down the temporal, stroke smooth the sounds of day. Ease, o ease the even teeth. Slacken the strong jaws. Lighten the eyelids and pool those sweetest dreams. Keep the night vasts at bay. Float the arms through their sleeping. Bless the fingertouches that joy their waking. Yes I am all alight at my watch, my wish, my wanting. Yes you are my emissary.

And then my heart said, what were you doing all that time I was out dipping and wheeling? And I said, I was at work on the slips and the sparks and the streamers you'll take up with you next time. I'll knot them into the lines soon enough. For now don't leave; things go so hollowly with me when you're away.

Already I could feel it gathering to go.

Friday, November 17, 2006

On the other hand, a lesson.

On the far side of the house I found him pressed close against the old iron-bound oak door of the chapel. He was talking, apparently to someone, but I was afraid to go near enough to hear what he was saying, lest I might frighten him, and he should run off. Chasing an errant swarm of bees is nothing to following a naked lunatic when the fit of escaping is upon him!

(1897), ch. 8

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Impossible proxemics.

How is it that I have lived so long away from my heart? It seems rarely here, instead out, a-hover, as if moth-winged, as if combusting. As if conflagration might be willed. As if a catch could come so simply. And will the words that scatter join the words that return. In this garden, afire with all that will not count that will not ascend to the level of form to furl and cling and fall, to gather in petaled piles. I watched that branch seep and shudder and bud and burst and burst again. Then avid birds devoured its fruits and I came to know it was not mine to take. The shrivel and the dwindle are besetting now. The cold hurry. The heartsick nonstop.

Across the world vintners dance the new wine. And can I imagine crossing the world without my heart. And why my heart. Why not (say) the flat of my hand, that which would reach. Because though the hands also flex, also fumble, in their flanneled sleep they quiet. The hands have their work to do all day. They stay at their post, tolling the letters and the words, refining. When they stop, they are still here. I echo Aurora Leigh: I recognise my hands. But oh. But. What has crossed the world is my heart, without me, in the dark night and the rain. And I know this by what still unspools out of sight: that string somewhere under my left ribs, that cord of communication refusing to be snapt, bleeding me inwardly. And I know it by the absence above the spooling, by the glory cooled and ashed in that hollow, by the bloomed-off things that would fall from me if I slipped open this rattled bone cage.

Some stories we know so well we cannot believe those in them do not know. Behind one door, toothmarks appear on her neck and still all suspect pinpricks, anemia. Behind the next, he mourns her heart while she hears dismissal. But behind the last, at least for tonight, comes the thing even we do not know how to read: he sees the shadow of no parting from her.

The shadow of no parting is what my heart has either flown out to find, or has found and would fly: the no-parting warded off, the no-parting left shadowed, lone.

My heart will come reeling back, its coming the reverse route of its going; it has started making its way by the crabapples' tracing. And I will say, what did you see when you went where you were? And it will smile in the sadness of knowing what no reason can wrest. And I will still want to read the heart's one tablet, my eyes open like an eager bird. And my world will burn all over again, the way some worlds do.

Tonight's image is mine, but some of the words are not, or only halfway: nods here, in one way or another, to G.C. Waldrep, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Toni Morrison. My peopled soul, you see.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Never flinch.

In the days when I thought I was going to become a medievalist, a professor of mine used to reassure me, when I had papers due and was terrified that I would fail miserably, by quoting Julian of Norwich: "All will be well, and all manner of things will be well." From start to finish today, I rang changes on those lines. Sometimes, they were as simple as simply saying please, breathing cool air through the nose, listening to rain on top of the umbrella and slipping a little in the saturated ground. Occasionally the refrain turned to why. More often it was simply a reminder of how much I can do, when the day requires. And it's requiring, and I am exhausted. But yesterday, there was this branch, and something about it was simply so there, so irreducibly present in itself. And today, I thought of the branch. And I too am still irreducibly present, still taking my lessons from Barrett Browning. Never flinch. I am still finding my unscrupulously epic way.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Look up and look down.

The secret is, look up. The other secret is, look down. A wise cameraphone artist told me that in the spring. When the sun broke its watery way through this afternoon (unaccountably seeming almost ashamed to be making an appearance), I seized a looking moment, though there is all this work to be done, though I feel a bit crushed and mangled right now, though I look around and realize that there's no physical way to finish everything I need to finish, no way to be everything I would be at this moment. That kind of half-panicked looking around doesn't help so much, not with anything at all. And so, out I went to look up and to look down. And here is some of what I came back with (not all, though: who knows when the sun will pull through next, and who knows whether I'll be able to step out into its weakening late-fall shafts; I am not good at conserving, but I'm practicing with the pictures):

I do love the look of these bared trees. I do love the green things still trying to make their ways, despite the brown, despite the killing cold.

"What are you doing there?" says the speaker of Elizabeth Bishop's "The Weed" to the titular plant that has grown from her now-severed heart. It answers (in her own thoughts? she thinks), "I grow but to divide your heart again."

Look up. Look down. Look closely at the top of the picture of the tree, and you'll see a bird taking wing.

Monday, November 13, 2006


This mug of hot milk, this one I'm drinking, has extra honey and extra nutmeg. You may know me well enough by now to have some sense of what that means.

Thank goodness for Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh. I've said it before, but I say it again with feeling tonight. Thank goodness.

                                      We get no good
By being ungenerous, even to a book,
And calculating profits, - so much help
By so much reading. It is rather when
We gloriously forget ourselves and plunge
Soul-forward, headlong, into a book's profound,
Impassioned for its beauty and salt of truth -
'Tis then we get the right good from a book. (1.702-709)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The slow fade.

When words fail me altogether, well, I suppose that means something. I suppose I even know what.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Thinking space.

This afternoon, for the first time in what feels like a long while, I found a quiet stretch of hours within which to work slowly and meanderingly--not in a time-wasting way (though I chided myself a little bit early in the afternoon for not being more swift and productive) but in a meditative one. It is little wonder to me that this week has produced a couple of poems. It is little wonder that my brain is tired, deep down tired. And so: sleep.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Oh, did you want to hear about it?

Because, see, I had this dream.

In my dream I was visiting my friend in an apartment that was really a dream that was really a novel. The apartment was his, but it was mine, and he and his partner were visiting, but to make them pancakes I had to keep going to my car to get out my suitcases and bring them into their apartment, which was mine. It was made of sandy colored stone and had innumerable ledges and leaded glass windows with many panes. The apartment had two doors. It was 21G. If I went out one door, I entered a nondescript, deserted lobby, decorated like a bad late-twentieth-century bank. If I went out the other door, I landed myself on a narrow ledge, a couple of stories above the street, and I had to creep along the wall like a prowler. The sun was always out. Sometimes I realized that I needed to go back in that door and try to find the other door. The apartment had many rooms, and they were not always in the same arrangement two times in a row. When I left the correct door and passed through the lobby that was like the bad bank, I would end up on a street full of broken-down apartment buildings that were perhaps in the process of being renovated. I passed and repassed and passed again. I got next to nowhere.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

How I learned to love the fall.

Oh, see? Remember how good the light looked behind the trees it threw into silhouette? I do see. I do remember.

The sun sets further and further to the south each day. But: only six weeks more and we're on the return trip.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What is the plural of menagerie?

More to the point, who will be the menagerist?

When no one volunteers, I do. I am still guarding the moon, just as I promised I would, keeping track of how and when it smears across our congested skies. In the night the animals would disappear into the fog if the weather would hold still. In the morning the deer emerge from the foliage and stare from the yard into the house where I wait.

In the evening the power goes out, which doesn't make sense (the evening is clear and still) until one of my poet friends says one word: "Squirrels." I trust him: they've ambushed him on the bike trail this fall. He knows how they are suicidal these dark days. I do, too: in the afternoon the squirrel leapt from tree to tree outside the window, finally pausing where the trees stopped. He was so avid. His haunches tensed, twitched; he gathered for the next jump. I remembered the dead squirrel I found on the street last year who had no marks of trauma on him, and how the narrative that grew for me as my eye reached up to the slender branches traced and woven above was that of the squirrel's last leap, his startled fall. (I don't know what happened to this afternoon's squirrel, though I am fairly sure I heard him land on the roof over my head.)

Two nights ago I slept so early that I woke before dawn and did not fall asleep again. A bird started running fifths, short scales, up, up, up, over and over again. Just one bird. And I remembered that I didn't tell you about the pigeons on the auditorium's roof last week, their massed darknesses lighting off into the flex and float of wider greyness, pulling shadows across the stony walls. And how I listened to the morning bird trilling, and how I laughed in my own breath when the roof exhaled the pigeons.

I will always be the menagerist.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Watching and waiting.

The first time I sat up late watching an election, it was 1992 and I was still living in my parents' house and I was not old enough to vote and I was angry about it. My best friend at the time didn't have cable, and so she and her mother were sitting up with their radio, and I was calling them with updates. She wasn't old enough to vote yet either.

Tonight I'm sitting up late in part because I've been scrolling election results all evening, which has slowed everything else down considerably. You may already have heard Ohio's news (and we raised the state minimum wage! and we're going smoke-free!). I'm eyeing the Montana, Missouri, and Virginia Senate races now. Tomorrow, back to our regularly scheduled program, if I manage to force myself to bed.

In 2004, it took me 10.5 hours to vote. Today, it took eight minutes.

But in 2004, there was no waiting for results: by the time we burst out into the middlenight, giddy and empty with having sat and stood and been filmed by TV crews and grasped at any tiny bits of news coming in from any direction, by that time it was all over, almost. We'd missed all the trickling in of numbers. Tonight, by contrast, everything looks as though it will go on and on. I check the news sites; nothing has changed. I check them again; still nothing.

And yes, I am well aware that I'm playing out a whole other drama with my checking and checking and checking, waiting for what will tip the 49.4% v. 49.5% balance. Where is that extra .1%? And what is it made of? Green velveteen, I'm guessing: that short shocked texture of slithery soft, of color that naps one way and the other, the texture of my childhood, the texture of jokes that are not. It's easy to hit the "reload" button on my browser, and so I keep doing it, well beyond my bedtime.

And yet, look! I hit "reload," and suddenly many more votes are in. Perhaps things will tip after all.

Monday, November 06, 2006

It is that eve again: don't forget to vote.

Now, I realize that I haven't said a thing about tomorrow's election, or about registering to vote, or about civic duty--or, really, about politics--pretty much ever on this site. And tonight I was about to write about something else altogether. But instead, I'm going to join the chorus of exhortation: get out and vote. Do it. Don't forget.

Tomorrow night, after we're all done voting (unless I end up in another 10.5 hour voting line in Gambier), I'll tell you what I was about to tell you tonight. You keep your end of the bargain, and I'll keep mine.

source for tonight's image: Smart Women Supplies.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Another world's larger fires.

Every November 5, Guy Fawkes Day, the southwestern English town of Ottery St. Mary holds the strangest of festivals: the running of the tar barrels. In the early evening, adolescents run through the streets of town with flaming barrels behind their necks. After a dinner break, the adults come out to run their full-sized barrels through the city centre. Crowds of people throng around the runners, whose barrels are often nearly as big as themselves. People sometimes surge away from the barrels. But sometimes they surge toward them.

I know these things because I was there one year, with my excellent friend (then my excellent teacher). We arrived early enough in the day to witness the young runners--and to get a false sense of confidence and control over what was to come. Not long after the adult running began, though, my friend panicked and pulled us from the city centre, a process that grew more arduous with each attempt we made to push against a thronging, more or less drunken crowd. Eventually we escaped to the lookout over the enormous bonfire on the edge of town. The whole evening stays in my mind as a moment of high adventure, notwithstanding the fact that the experience helped collapse my excellent friend's lung, notwithstanding the fact that we were pressed, folded, to the fiery savagery of the human heart. You can see it in people's eyes, in some of the pictures at the site where I found these three. We glimmered and glittered and growled like everyone else around those mobile fires, even those of us who then were pulled out and who went uncomplainingly, while a nation burned a man for nearly the four hundredth time, while we cheered and shouted. It is a strange thing to move with a mob; it was a stranger thing, that night, to move against one.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

My world's small fires.

Today: coughing, writing, coughing, grading, coughing. If my voice goes out, all the rules of the game will change. In the meantime, I mark papers, and in my breaks I read about cholera. And I cough.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Which means that you'll get more from me tomorrow.

(The name I am giving this picture is "The Strange Sagacity of Chalkboards.")

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The quality of this afternoon's light.

Get ready to love a different palette. The last of the golds will soon have gone.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A train in the distance.

In Atlanta, I could hear trains passing by, even from thirty-five stories up in the air. On stillest nights in Gambier, I can hear the trains passing in Mount Vernon, five miles away. I have wanted to write for you about distant trains for so long: I took this picture in March, planning to use it for a train post, and yet I'm still not there. Perhaps this writing wants to be a longer piece. Or perhaps it's something so obvious as not to want to be written at all. Perhaps it's simply too close right now--which would seem to be ironic, given that what I want to write is about the opposite of closeness, because it is ravaging me again, because I am nowhere close, because the nearest sounds I hear are the ones trickling through the night from elsewhere, on nights when I am farthest from here.

When I was in love a decade ago, I kept a copy of this poem on my wall. Then it was a different thing to me.

Words, Wide Night

Somewhere on the other side of this wide night
and the distance between us, I am thinking of you.
The room is turning slowly away from the moon.

This is pleasurable. Or shall I cross that out and say
it is sad? In one of the tenses I am singing
an impossible song of desire that you cannot hear.

La lala la. See? I close my eyes and imagine
the dark hills I would have to cross
to reach you. For I am in love with you and this

is what it is like, or what it is like in words.

-- Carol Ann Duffy

La lala la. See? This is what it is like, or what it is like in words. Somewhere I am singing an impossible song. Shall I say it is sad? This, too, is one of the too-present tenses I would have. Yet in these dark hills I am singing away: crossing the turning room is impossible. For I am the distance between us, thinking I am in love with you and this. I close my eyes and imagine this night's pleasurable moon, wide desire's other side. And slowly you cannot hear, not what it is like, not even what it is like in words. Shall I cross that out to reach you?


Or shall I rework yet again, this time using only her words? I am a word short. Some preposition slipped away.

Wide Night Words
(with apologies to Carol Ann Duffy)

La lala la. See what it is like, or what it is
like in words? Somewhere I am singing
an impossible song. Shall I say it is sad?

In one of the tenses of desire that you cannot hear
I close my eyes and imagine
this is the other side of wide night,
the pleasurable moon turning away from the hills.

Cross out the distance between us, for I am
thinking I am in love with you and this.
Cross that dark and I would reach to have you.

The room is slowly of and on you.
Or this is.