Sunday 20 November 2006
Ruth and Diane, a happy pair, mother and daughter, walk around Green Lake. Ruth is 90. She just came from the doctor's. She just flew across the country. She walks in delight. Walks around the lake. What does she walk for? Life, love, air? It is winter at Green Lake. Raining and cold. They are bundled in scarves and hats.
Ruth is a Reed College graduate. Left leaning, liberal Reed College in Oregon, has a 10:1 student to faculty ratio. The school's motto, "Communism, Atheism, Free Love."
Ruth is all smiles. Understandably. She has written and published poetry. She had traveled. She has reared a family. What can I offer Ruth today? She has everything. She's read everything. Hikmet? No, she's not read Hikmet. I gift her my copy. She is happy. Hikmet embodies Ruth's spirit.. her force. They will be like old friends meeting.
Before they depart, Diane recites "Menu for Morning" from memory, by Alaskan poet Tyler Henshaw. And off they go.
THE FRAGILE AND UNPROVABLE
Caroline and Chelsea brought their doggie for a run and stopped to say hello. They came to announce their news. A recent marriage. Bellissimo! Vissi d'amore! They read a Mary Oliver poem at the ceremony. "Coming Home." A sweep of lights. A shift of focus. Look out for sorrow. Slow down for happiness. Find yourself in the movement "along the dark edges." Oliver doesn't destroy the forces "deep and nameless" or deny the unpleasant things. Instead, she proposes a challenge to make "the right turns." Like driving in the dark, you must navigate your way to happiness.
Clinton navigates his way through Sherwood. He bears a basket of red things, tender and resolute. Ringed with raspberries, which all day long excited my visitors. Cold rain and tender buttons. Ooo raspberries! Rasp-berries. And pomegranates and persimmons and apples. Thank you.
This caring is unprecidented. This community caring for their poet. And I do not feel embarassed by it. And I do not feel indebted because of it. They are not bringing these things to me. They are bringing these things to you, dear poet, it is you they are caring for.
Forever done / With simple joys and quiet happiness / He guards the vision of the sunset sky;/ Though faint with weariness he must possess / Some fragment of the sunset's majesty"
--from "The Poet" by Amy Lowell (1874-1925), from A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass
The division. The division within. The fragment. The sunset you contain. Your ability to contain. To sustain. And relate this majesty.
THE SPIRAL OF LIFE
In the never-ending rainfall, I collect leaves. My hands work awkwardly. I need to keep them moving, busy myself, or the cold will prevail.
I shape a flourish of willow leaves in the lawn. The yellow and brown slivers scattered through my meadow. I am bent collecting leaves. Pulling yellow into my hand, bearing a clutch of leaves. A few more before I give over the bunch. Scuffing my corduroy cuffs through the mud to the end of the trail.
I lay before me a leaf road as Susan comes striking her humble stance, if a bit brave, inquisitive, if ajar, barely, pared in her head kerchief, a clothespin in the rain.
"This is the first time I have seen you without counsel. I have seen you before." "Hello hello." "What are you doing?" "All sorts of things. Making a leaf scroll in the grass. It is cold today. Cold and wet. Not so many people stop on a day like today. Even fewer than you might think."
THE WIND WON'T BLOW IT ALL AWAY
But the wind is blowing the lake away. And the horses are drawing the ducks and coots in their teeth. The water birds are blowing ashore. They wash up here, under "Cloud." Huddled and treading the rushes. The wind blew all the leaves from my favorite tree. Only six tulip leaves remain. The birds are not at all pleased. As a rule, they refuse poetry in this weather, though it is poetry blowing them ashore.
This is a weather for counting one's coins. Of all of my coins, the tulip, birch and willow, I count the golden spears of the willow. Trail them out in a line from my white pine tree, where I have been taking shelter, curving around my tulip to the center of my meadow, where all summer I sat in full sun, in marguerite and clover scented days, awaiting the shadows. First it was the tulip, then the willow shaded me, as the sun drew south. Marking time. Time to fold my papers, tuck my letters in my desk.
It grows pale. The rain lets up. Sheer clouds high and peach before the sun. The denser clouds rose over. In slips the golden hour. The magic hour. Suddenly, Sherwood goes red. The supernovas over the ball field will explode soon and outshine the twinkling city.
There are no small lights on the pedestrian path around Green Lake and so I grow dim and dumb and am lost to the forest, which I have paddled all day. All day I have paced and paddled the woods and the meadow. All day I moved in and out of the gray light of the firs. My eyes have adjusted to their reflections. I have paced and read. It is easier to read than write in this weather. My hands are too cold to make the pen work and the paper won't accept ink. So I read.
I have taken to the greenwood of Sherwood Forest. Now that the rain has stopped, the juncos have come to harvest the insects in the matted pine needles. From nowhere they came, like Merry Men of Sherwood. Twitching and darting. Behind this one here, another catches my eye, twitching, and another to the left and right of that, and here is another underfoot. These are the winter birds, "Oregon juncos," with tan breasts, brown jackets and dark hoods that comes down to their shoulders. Proper bandits, here to steal and distribute their loot among the poor in poetry.
This morning I read "Overture" from vol. 1 of Proust's Swann's Way, Remembrance of Things Past. À la recherche du temps perdu. What does Proust have to say about nostalgia? Memory figures into the distinction between intelligible and unintelligible. Proust seeks the gelatin stuff, that which survives the passage of time, that which stays through the ages, condenses and collects at dusk and dawn when matter gains and loses form, when weight finds its way into things and seeps out again.
Proust recognizes a point Oliver Sacks outlines in his article on whole body seeing and the newly sighted ("The Mind's Eye: What the Blind See"). How sound travels and contours the environment, how rain tickles the grass, how a train whistle punctuates the distance, and shows "in perspective the deserted countryside through which a traveller would be hurrying towards the nearest station." Nature, complicit with our senses, grows around us. Trickles in through every orifice. Forms memory and is formed by it.
Proust is concerned with "the sleeping man" who "has in a circle round him the chain of hours, the sequence of the years, the order of the heavenly host." He "instinctively, when he awakes, looks to these, and in an instant reads off his own position on the earth's surface and the amount of time that has elapsed during his slumbers." It dawns on me, reading this now, how the path here at Green Lake, the speedway around which we measure our time and health, this hour-long chain, is for some that wakeful state, that true existence, the land beyond slumber.
The objects at Green Lake no doubt sequence a life, to some degree, for the individuals who frequent it. The revolutions of the Circler enable him to read off his position. The tall trees, Duck Island, the boat house. These all figure into the placing of self. Must this mean that man is sleeping? I argue no. What is intelligible? What is unintelligible? If we figure in The Poetess, the wind that blew the tree, the improbable tracks through the meadow, that golden thread dangling from the sky, the hour glass over my tulip tree, we are myth-making still, pacing in the rooms and moments that stand between our sleeping and our waking.
Proust suggests that memory that makes us unique. The way memory aids in our self-locating. Memories, how we approach the world, the environment, the objects around us. By sifting through memory, we gain position with respect to time and space.
What difference is there between self and memory? Is memory a distraction from the present, a distraction from the self? Might such constant distraction keep us from the eternal pains and losses of life? How does memory keep us from the value of the moment? Shall all joy, for all times, reside in the past? How will we ever know a present joy?
The story wants to resolve. This is the tendency of things. To resolve. What will our resolution be? The resolution of our story? Is there resolution in the idea of "home?" If endings portend new beginnings, and with them the promise of joy, present joy, why do we still fight the story's ending? Beginnings are difficult. And difficult things are, as we know, difficult. To begin takes everything we have. To begin again is draining.
How many times can we afford to be born? What can we afford to lose? To leave behind? What part of the story will we consecrate as memory? What part forget and what hold onto? This is myth-making, taking bits of the experience and shuffling them to make a new meaning. Filing the bits away, with the attendant senses and sights. Going back and drawing out these new convinctions and pieces of furniture. The chain of hours.
Does not the creation of art preclude our being lost? Does not art require presence? We must, every day, decide to awake, decide to accept the definitions we've accumulated or question them and begin again.
As children, we thought our parents static beings. Even as we began to see how they were sculpted by time and experience, to our minds that process happened long ago and long ago ceased to be working upon them. They were, to us, finished works with fixed roles, mother and father. It was unthinkable that they be part of another story. They were a part of our story. And so, as we grew from age to age, eighteen, twenty-five, thirty, almost forty and so on.. it surprised us to learn that our parents had been changing all along. As certain as we were changing, they were changing. It surprised us to see how growing up did not in fact mean growing, but slowing, changing, working, small turns to or away from relationships, travels, meaning. We realized how difficult change was, how and when change was forced and how chosen. How much of that process was in our hands, how much needed to be accepted.
Because I could not afford a car, I began to walk the 5 miles to work. Not long into my role as a walking commuter, I came to accept, as a gift, the things I saw and experienced. Later, I changed my thinking. This pattern, I realized, was not forced, but chosen. In time, it became a role. This walk, this choice, this who I was. There is no denying it formed me as a person as much as I formed it into a decision. It drove my thoughts.. on life, design, art, health, the environment, politics. I cannot say what part of me it did not touch. Perhaps the part of me it did not alter is who I am?
I will never forget the evening I crushed rosemary between my fingertips exclaiming, "This moment, I will remember." I set the moment aside. I tagged it with texture and scent. I was in the backyard garden of a house in Wallingford, a neighborhood of Seattle. A mild summer evening. The guests were in sportscoats and sandals. We had finished passing a bowl of heavy cream around to collectively whip it for shortcake. People were lingering on the patio, in the garden. "Proust's trademark, a profound sensory experience of memory, triggered especially by smells, but also by sights, sounds, or touch, transports the narrator back to an earlier time in his life" (Wikipedia).
Taking the experiences of life and performing work upon them. This is what you do when you set out to experience a thing. Today, I shall take a walk. I am reading an important book. I aim to make that high point there. This candle will keep her memory alive. Just see how I have arranged the salad! Behold this orange. The scent of this rosemary.
"A large part of the novel has to do with the nature of art. Proust sets forth a theory of art, democratic in appearance, in which we all are capable of producing art, if by art we mean taking the experiences of life and performing work upon them, transforming them artistically, in a way that shows understanding and maturity" (Wikipedia). Tossing a salad. Buttering bread. Applying pigment to a canvas. Breathing into a flute. A palm on a stretched animal skin. We are all capable of producing art. And I do mean art. The finest there is. The art of living.
Proust points out your hand in the making of immobile things. You, yourself, have convinced these things to be what they are. Immobile. Concepts. Convictions. Tables and chairs. Known objects with predictable behavior. Once the things around you settle into themselves, your mind ceases to struggle. What a relief! What a struggle it was, at dusk, at dawn, to create the world again, to situate yourself on earth! Your settled mind is capable then of pedestrian things. A mind that has shifted through the layers of sand and bottomed out on the mud base is capable of labor and simple talk, weather and sports. Able to spectate, rest and withstand all it must see and accept. Life is mundane. The mind will wake when it is time. To begin. To reject.
The mind that slumbers with the weight of the objects around it, that which recognizes and glues down the furniture, is in its own way paying homage to the designs and ideas that have reached us through time. Endorsing them. Allowing for a cultural memory. This is part of a hypnosis and serves its purpose. Sports, weather, rest, the ability to accept these things.
Have we lost nostalgia in the passage towards weight? Where is the home we seek? Is this home a memory? Is it nestled in things past? Better not to seek it? In what direction shall we go? Can a life of beginnings entertain "home?" What sort of home is reached through movement? What sort is reached by moving back and forth, pacing? The pacing of the mind. For each visit to our memory, we pick up another piece, as if a file where everything done and said and thought lays waiting its moment, to be plucked and made relevant. Is it possible to reach home by performing work on a previous home? I ask, is such a thing possible? Is any thing possible?
It comes down to if. It comes down to the body. Labor and the collective matter. It comes down to movement for the sake of, not the perfection of, movement. It comes down to movement.
And if bodies move. And if you wake up. If bodies collide. If you begin. And you turn and settle in. If you labor or sleep a bit more.