I realize more things now. Itís funny about fall, the way I always seem to grow here in this season. If I ever have a child, I want him to be born in the fall; if I ever die, I want to die in the fall. Wrapped up in a scarf and walking I feel like I have just missed or been missed by whatever makes the world, or at least my own little dark-and-light-but-never-gray life. I seek out farm stands with cider and donít swat away the yellowjackets who want a sip of what I have. I half expect one of them to tell me the secret message I have been waiting for, years now. The multitude of ways, ways, ways in this world makes me glassy often, in the fall, when Iím on the bridges; itís not sadness, just bigness.
I could be twenty-five and in Vermont in wool stockings and blonde again and cold and calm, every night. I could be twenty-six and loud and lush and funny in jeans and my first real diamond earrings in a hot peach and gold restaurant in New York. I could be twenty-five and warm but contained in a long black skirt, teaching people things, and dreading going home. I could be twenty-five and my hair is dark brown and I am holding a rabbit on my lap while a car moves up the coast of California and I am scared. I could be all of these things. It gets deeper every year; a decade will knock the wind out of me in a way that is neither good nor bad. I am twenty-three and I am lying in your bed with my dark brown hair in your elbow. I have the body of Josephine Hopper, and I canít speak.
I read Merwin. I meant to avoid it, for a while, so as not to crisscut the lines outside of what you sent me. I had to, though, for class. I realize things, now Ė God, I wish it would snow here, and the trains would scream just a little, and that they painted houses dark green in this place. I am so tired of surface irony, Daniel, and everyone my age and yours too loves it. I am so tired of writing without daring. I am so tired of aging hipsters buying forty dollar t-shirts from the 70s in vintage stores. I am so tired of making fun of things for the wrong reasons, hitting the easy marks. I am so tired of the bad being good because itís admitted to be bad. I am tired of people who drink Pabst for the kitsch. I want David Foster Wallace and David Berman to grow up; I want T.C. Boyle to stop writing. I want women to be deeply quirky instead of aggressively, marketably so. I want aesthetic to mean something again. In the moment, I want it to be life or death, the writing I read and the love I make. In poetry class, the kids who are also in a lit. crit. class talk about the language poets and theorists and critics versus something else, something that I get the sense is old and kicked-around, something that lends itself to intuition well. .
[...]What Iím trying to say is that I can see how a man who quotes Merwin would like Graham Greene. I can see in their unabashed prophetic tones the core of humility instead of vice versa, the clever ones who are just narcissists in clown costuming. I can see how a man who quotes Merwin and likes Greene would have heavy ribs, and understand about serious joy long before itís too late. Oh itís so simple and so hard: to say something of meaning and adore something of meaning and let art do the rest, to throw down your palms on the cafť table at sunset and scream art, to embarrass your closest self, leaking all over the iron furniture and the curb and the street and the town by the water like a thumbed peach. Rock her side to side when you fuck her, drunk and limp and hot and mewling about pins and needles. Know nobodyís cool or unique or tortured when the Schulykill River makes him think of dying. Maybe itís because Iím a southern girl, and we are taught from a very young age to take a five-hundred year view of everything, to trace past ourselves and our time even as we live in it.
(I wonder what you would think of my southern accent, a clipped waxy dogwood lilt from Virginia. I wonder what your voice sounds like, reading.)
I had not realized that you thought of me, coming out of the vagueness of want and into real image, cheek to chest. It neither occurred nor did not occur to me. I thought perhaps if you thought of me, naked, it would be a passing general thought. The only reason I bring it up is that it made my lower lip swell and face flush as I read it, printed, walking down the broken brick walk of Saint Philips Street. I have several senses, now: that ripe hollow thump of your chest and my eyelashes on it, where your friendsí baby slept and what your own daughter used as her traveling throne. I have the image of your hand too, over my eyes, between my teeth. And of my hip, to which you always seem to return. There is a way to sleep that keeps tomorrow away, even if nobody's discovered it. To tell you the truth, I am a glamourless WASPy eastern girl (I know, I know, you and the west coast; Iíll take any convincing youíve got), not in the new sense but in the old, old sense that nobody in the bigger world even knows anymoreóand I just use baby shampoo and tangle spray in my hair. Some of my lovers very much like the idea that from me when I sleep comes the smell of no more tangles and no more tears, and I think that if anything in the world could promise such a thing, it might indeed be a womanís brown plain sparrow head in the middle of night, tucked to roost.
I wonder how youíd be, if not standing like a crane. (The infamous blushing crane of South Carolina Ė the first time youíve joked. Fall must suit you too.) I have no affinity in others for awkwardness versus confidence. At some point we give up the futile game of defining what lures us to others before the fact. I wonder how your hand moves choosing fruit at the farmerís market, how often you smile.
As for mothers, or anyone, who want life to be bordered, I understand the kind and the impetus. I could not do it. I have a friend or two trying very hard to fit a certain path, to give in to the rules and pleasures of prescriptionónot of motherhood, but of various defined social roles. They will fail because theyíre too sentient. The tapping click of the big engagement ring against the glass of boutique counters and the handrail of the El doesnít carry enough weight, but they need to find that out for themselves. Women have a need to taste a big lie before they know itís one; the sacrifice of self to playdates and birthday parties fits the bill. Often they actually come around. What kind of brown are your daughterís eyes?
I read about the Friday night fish-fry phenomenon in Milwaukee. It sounds heavenly, no pun intended (oh CatholicismÖ) Is the hype about Klingerís East warranted? I genuinely, non-ironically, like to poke around things like that. Itís barbecue or pie-shacks in the south, but you have to drive. In Charleston thereís nothing of interest on such lines, a slew of talked-about restaurants full of breast implants and combovers that donít deliveróand one or two that doótwo crappy bars for every decent one, one movie house playing anything remotely independent, mind numbing theater. The Waffle House is the hardest seat to get, actually, which gives me strange faith. I always find it hilarious to read tourist articles about this city, but people genuinely seem to think itís something really intensely Southern voodoo magical.
I always wonder about the details, if you rise early and drink coffee, trip over the cats, watch the sun, or if you awaken at the last minute because you have stayed up until four. I wonder if your desk is a mess; I suspect not, not a real tangle the way some can get. I wonder if you are methodical about things, or scattered. I wonder if you wash the cup out right after, or let it sit all night. I wonder if you drive too fast, or if you would be horrified to see that I drive too fast, slamming my car around with the music loud, if the glaring parts of me that are very twenty-three would make you roll your eyes. I wonder if you'd get pissed off if you cut yourself carving a pumpkin, and say fuck, or sulk, or laugh, or both. I wonder what a woman has, walking by your table at twilight, that makes you look up. Or maybe you don't look up.
Date: October 13, 2004
Subject: union dues
consider this in black ink, the preferred. It must be dense and fine since I, by rites, write small and blocked. (The splotch of ballpoints is unbearable). There are some notebooks that have two strains of observation woven through, and there the occasional turn to blue seems to make some sense; but even then the systematic application disintegrates into veined flows: arbitrary and spidery turns through the muscle of thought. Do those cheeks of yours take their color the way the empty pages absorb the word? Sometimes it feels that the incessant writing is necessary, fundamental, and if measured, as baseless as the flesh that faces the world. Lineament and ligature. Bloodflow / the coffee makes it go. And as such, when the lights go out, nothing is legible.
As it stands now, we shine only in lightness; our suspended selves to one another. Hidden still behind not having to move in front of the other, but still the effects are as real as anything. Do you really look from the side and stand with one leg raised, pure pink in the cheeks . . . like a flamingo? Or one of those infamous blushing cranes of the new south, (not quite) solitary in the Charleston ruins? If so, so be it; maybe there's no escaping the pull of that profile I saw first and foremost and still turn to to catch a glimpse. Silken or slink has never equaled appeal of any gravity. You ask if you might make a dent, as if the words don't press the skin and leave their little row of subsiding scars. No, I know it's not the same as the infinitesimal differences that turn on desire, but in this case the gift has been given. I'm glad you re-appeared. So I'd take the beer, fix the bike--because everyone should have the feeling of pedaling hard through twilight autumn air--and probably ask you a lot of questions . . . to hear the way your words take to the air, and in that, probably listen for the ways flesh softly raked by teeth might bunch slightly at the hip. Some time ago, not long ago, the imaginings were of a different sort. I needed escape from court papers and bankrupting support amounts and the student badgering and all the rest and just wanted some old pure peace. Wanted to be in a holiday bed during a night that had forgotten the days of chores, banality, and a next day's list of concerns; a night that had simply closed in on itself with no threat of tomorrow; and there I wanted you (it was definitely you) to be with me, naked and cooling, sharing a reading of _Jude the Obscure_ aloud. For each, cheek to chest in the limited light. That was a sustained and sustaining craving.
The turn to memories of the present must be a sign of coming ends. In new places--within or without--do we ever slacken the sensations long enough to let them become the past right before us? Maybe that is why the freedom you write of is the great lie, since it ensures a tinsel thin and eventually brittle state of being. Presence shrinking to the point of the worst kind of insubstantial. Or mere survival.
Paul Auster writes this in the _The Invention of Solitude_ and after I marked it your letter came, echoing it, writing of the richer rewards to be found: "For a man who finds life tolerable only by staying on the surface of himself, it is natural to be satisfied with offering no more than this surface to others. There are few demands to be met, and no commitment is required. Marriage, on the other hand, closes the door. Your existence is confined to a narrow space in which you are constantly forced to reveal yourself--and therefore, constantly obliged to look into yourself, to examine your own depths." In the wake of a marriage wrecked it is understandable to stay poised on the threshold. And certainly there are few models of what would hold one close to another. Do you have them, these models? The couples who make it seem possible for stars to keep mutually sustaining orbits? Maybe it is only clear in the face of another's death, or with the loving of a tiny life, when we take a different measure of those depths. No chance to prove things meanly then if feeling is felt. Maybe it is maturity in the strong sense of the word. How many do we see who cannot sound their own existence? They speak a mangled, cliched language and cannot sink down into their own being to figure--with Melville's figure of the godly foot on the treadle of the loom--what it might become or where it came from.
My daughter's mother is that way. Did I tell you? She's simple. Her Manhattan world is so much nothing--the politics of birthday cakes and playgrounds. Even before there was the little one I think her instincts were better than that, but she can't reflect or see past the form of arranged things. She didn't want freedom but its cousin: something tight and secure and unchanging, I guess. It's hard to know. I never understood. Our words never added up. Together now we don't speak for hours, which is actually easier than it sounds: I just disappear into what the little she is doing. The last time, a few weeks ago, was particularly difficult. Personal attacks wrap around insecurities and incapacities. I silently shake off the temptation to sulk through it and instead come absolutely alive in the actions of the sweet child: leaves and pieces of string, the swing, her want to understand how the ring that shows on a finger above an open palm should look so much like the metal bit outside the closed fist. You know these precise and elegant gestures. She comes out of her nap bright and sparkling even when the day is dark gray and almost wet. I gave her a small bear with a Stanford t-shirt (to begin the west coast wooing) and she clutched it and mauled it happily. When she didn't like the stroller perspective I carried her. She rode on my arms for many bright sunny downtown blocks, happy to see unobstructed from the high perch, always seeing, singing her tiny sigh songs, and gently kicking her feet, as if propelling us, that soft head right under my chin and easily lifted so we could look cheek to cheek at passing dogs. Then once and again she would crane her head back to look up at me, unblinking with those dark eyes. Long, appraising, staring, and with what seemed like contentment, but also deeply consoling, as if to say, "I'm with you." Then when we had lunch she sat on my lap while we shared some sweet and mashed potatoes and again the looks would well up from her little face and wash in around me. When I asked her to grab her bear so I could scoop them both up she clutched it right away and held it tight. These moments have the force of miracles. They stay. No dissipation. I swear I can still feel her on my arm, the sensation of that brush of her hair and the feel of that look.
Time is slower, thicker then. When there is Love it is slow. Maybe that's the sign that lets us be mature enough to find the right words for what is immemorial and what is being born with us.
Last week I taught the Auster. Showed them the opening of his film, _Smoke_. It begins with a writer named Paul walking into a cigar store and telling the story of how Sir Walter Raleigh weighed smoke. The guys listening claim it's impossible, like weighing air. He's says it is strange, "like weighing a man's soul," but describes how the difference between an unsmoked cigar and its collected ash, its remains, showed the weight of the smoke (or the soul). He leaves, and Harvey Keitel's character, Auggie, tells the story of Paul's wife's death, how she was gunned down outside Auggie's shop during a random robbery.
[...] Yes, if the students have not had a chance to find the earth under their feet, the weight others, I don't think such imperatives to slow down--to look, to really truly see--has much impact. I have to remind myself they can only, possibly, remember what they don't understand and someday, maybe, find the instinct to consider such things. I have to remind myself of the physical parts too. I see it in the sky and what the bike provides, but that's not quite the same as the kind of routines you suggest. One place is hard because I dream of the old family land, or at least its scale. Something to walk on, unbroken by fence or boundary. Loved the foggy mornings when everything visible belonged to "me." I think of the ocean views of my past and how much power and comforting isolation such enormity provides. Cities, at a certain angle, can give that; so my one place, at least for the time of this writing, is in San Francisco, along the steep slant of Eureka Valley. The three-story victorian would face west so in the upstairs study I could work in the afternoon sun and then watch the fog finger in over the hilltops, as it almost always does at a certain time of day; furiously, with the speed of a film too quickly playing. The back of the house would face east, high up as if floating above the neighbors, the backyard cypressed and mossy, showing the distant silent bay and then the Oakland lights and hills, the morning colors coming into the kitchen windows, slow-glowing the garden where we could sit chilled and warmed with coffee and books, watching the three or four sibling ducks let loose to waddle about and eat the snails down below the bricks we upturned from the pathway.
To end with that,
Date: September 27, 2004
Subject: short of wisdom
the clouds looked French in the coming evening. There was a grace to them that suggested an older place than I saw from the sidewalk table near my apartment--with the neighborhood drift all around, the dense traffic flow and storefront glow. Low on the horizon, behind the radio towers, the clouds were of another world; gray but brightly framed by the dimming, yellowing sun burning their edges. Some immaculate tempest up there. The light rays and shadowed strands of air criss-crossed each other. To the north and south the clouds were singular, slowly migrating to the darkening east. Planes dissected the scene, cutting with vapor tails. The last ones were brightly-embered orange against the soot spread of the sky. At my table, finishing the coffee, read Sebald beneath a streetlamp light until even that was a strain and then walked to the lake to feel the real dark, where there were stars and no horizon and long, long off along the northern slant of invisible shore, so small the bursts were no bigger than my thumbnail, pinpricks of faraway fireworks silently sprayed tiny color circles.
Wondered if the coming dark of a Maine coast wouldn't soothe like that. A full escape. Free from all the messy noise of the sidewalks and distractions. Like that idea. And what might I look like on those rocks in the coming morning, the lines of the face not the result of expression or smile or squint, but simply of time alive? It's strange to find oneself halo-ed by the unrecognizable traces. Somewhere the boyishness died away. I feel it sometimes and see its absence in the mirror shaving when I step outside the self and objectively see the weatheredness and gray-beard. Those little signs do add up to thirty-eight. It is not an accounting error, after all. There is a Beckettian map being laid out. If those like you are touched by the touch of what is no longer fresh, fingering the history on flesh, then there is solace for the new shell. And then there is the other side: touching youthful shades, with skin so foreign and different that it comes like a shock. Women in their forties can have the gravity of presence that creates the beautiful richness of a body (that Charlotte Rampling sexiness of pure control . . . as if it is an exquisite athleticism, even in stasis and rest) while women in their twenties, if secure enough not to be afraid, seem to hover light and infinite, however much the muscles flex and taut and press and twist.
As for the those young ones who are students, they rarely radiate anything like a being capable of humor and sex and the naked aliveness of both, no matter how much experience they might claim to themselves. They remain pretty girls and pretty girls do not, despite rumors, make graves. The beautiful ones are rare and they can handle Being. They come close and look me straight in the eye. Cocking their heads, they might say, "Daniel, are you Irish?" They are drawing on deeper resevoirs and they get the jokes and I take them seriously because they know they're changing and are already adapting to those changes that haven't even arrived. What is it like from the desk? Are teachers ever beautiful? I have no idea what students see, even though I feel like one still. The ones who stand out in a place like this are the young married ones, who married too young and are evolving, alone, and thus out of the bondage. I don't think they see beauty in me but simply something other. A chance at what they cannot name.
You write of your lovers and stray beds and fleeting moments that make up the season. What changes, maybe, are the ways the touch, which once stayed like the brush of velvet, doesn't penetrate that halo of age in the same way, with the same kind of force. Now, for me, there is presence or not. And if not, it is an abstraction. It seems like the reverberations from particular hands and lips used to last much longer so that days would be filled and it was like living it through the afterglow. Nights alone now take on the enormity of a desert. There can be beauty in that withdraw, so absolute; the mind works on a different scale. But when it isn't there, the sense of past and present own all. More, the very minute the bed is again solitary, even the faint smells left, or the earing found under the pillow, are like distant, distant day-dreamed memories.
Of course, that one time is omnipresent with vividness. Hit the mark, you say. What a confusing and humbling arrangement of angles. The stroke of midnight and the complex of molecular unfoldings and from that (that!) brutish wrestle, life. It has to be a comedy, then, when all the plans change and once changed fall into place with the force of the sky crashing down. I'm sorry for your having to feel the onslaught from above, though those words or that sentiment doesn't match what's trying to be uttered, since I imagine you are not, for having survived the crush, how does one regret living beyond the ruin? Hope only for both of us that the future tenses do come as decisions and not as cruel, killing twists of plot.
So far, the balance holds. One of the books (a full set of the old beatrix potters, too) I have stashed in an old wooden trunk where I keep the things that await her someday-hoped-for-arrival is an illustrated book of Philippe Petit's tight-rope walk across the Twin Towers. Have you ever seen that bit of history? PBS did one of their epic documentaries on the WTC and that was the highlight for me; absolutely dumbfounding and achingly gorgeous. A man that high above the earth, held by pillars of convention and banality, dancing on a wire. That is maybe what fatherhood, transcending what they call paternity, really is. It must be whole even across the rift. It is pure creation and in all senses impossible. It is the crossing unlike any other. It is to be suspended and never arriving. Dangling against death is its rapture. And to ever come down to where the line is anchored means you'll be arrested--we both know too well what Family Court is.
What awaits you as your sister's charge? When the spring comes and classes are finished will you leave? Are you tasting aloneness and the northeast already? Can it ever be so easy as a decision and a direction? I hope you are neither anchored nor scared nor uncaring.
Eyes to the future, the task is still with remembering to live in recognition of the chance. For me the ways of being through the writing and the books and the ways of making pictures (not to mention amnesty) take a lot of energy and focus. (And you, when are you in control of what is "very so"?) I have had to temper the urge to build the force of the piled projects around me. The wee one needs her schooling too. But for all the restraint, bought some LaPlanche, some Yerushalmi, some Rothenberg poems, a book on the possibility of justice, and some on the Holocaust and photographs. With these I will build new things, I hope.
Date: August 31, 2004
Subject: Re: sand county
Dear Francesca, have the storms subsided and the rhythms of classes and controlled time returned?
>All that's left is ice. I'm dashing the stirrer
>against the curled
>carrion of lime. I will disappoint you in a lot of
>ways, general ones,
>Nick Hornby ones I can't put my finger on. I sense
>you know that already.
That was probably the first time, though even there the line is so fine. But yes. Disappointment is inevitable. Everyone fails. People limp onward. You find a shoulder to trust, hold on, and step.
No fantasies this week. The hills, traffic glare, ocean gray and comradarie were real and true and pefect and needed post-court, which was a kind of blood-letting. Just got in after an all-night flight on a near empty plane--laid out across the seats like some bus trip. Already I miss the comforts and sensations that bring life.
Without them, a mode of retreat. I'm off to sleep for a few more hours.
Date: August 20, 2004
Subject: sand county
All of that. Bring me (to) the harbor.
The thing I loved most about those days outside Philadelphia, the numb and the bite, the dust motes, the waltz of a joyful Saturday depression like the soft divot in a poem where you fall through and say 'o god I'm inside her now,' the slip of your feet across public linoleum, the privacy of the long view you take down Haverford Avenue, the person who is gone for indefinite time with boots flaccid and tipped, hearts and other private parts, the salt of cheap soup and silver polish on a Saxe-Coburg-Gotha tongue, the chipping yellow paint on the side of the huge house you watched the way some people watch airports, the steamy heat and cold and the looseness of time and thrust, the lisp in your own voice, dalet and shin written in crayon in loose love across a lined page, the humid aching bounce in that stationwagon upholstery, the wrist and the corduroy and the godforsakenness of it, the thing I loved most of all was feeling that I was all at once too much and not enough for myself to survive. There is too much and too little of us; there is a book of glorious friction open on your hip.
There has been too much and too little said. I should go back and respond to the hundred beautiful words you wrote that I get like little boats across the new-thaw skating pond. I am too old and too new. I am too much and not enough for these things. There is a world of gin and stumbling and the hundred ways to lock your legs around a person while you wail; I have a shadow velvet belly that dreams of teeth. And even in Charleston beds that don't warrant breakfast, I'm brushing away their jaws and commanding my troops to bring me a better harbor. I called an old lover, the kind who's gone and much older and taught one a lot when one was younger, and I said "remember that day were were on Bull Street and I said the biggest beauty is the kind borne of something being very much what it promised it would be? Remember how you pulled me off my feet and swung me around? I was so embarassed for you, then." That's the fine point of what's erotic, the literal humiliation; those are the humming silences that matter, that are the paradoxical glue and separation. I know how to stand and seethe with fierce self-abandon; I am embarassed all the time, for myself and all of us - most often, in that proverbial embarassment of riches.
All that's left is ice. I'm dashing the stirrer against the curled carrion of lime. I will disappoint you in a lot of ways, general ones, Nick Hornby ones I can't put my finger on. I sense you know that already. I cannot be pretended into any modern indie dramatic fantasy; I'm too aware and perhaps self-conscious to be lost in translation or dancing out the last days of disco or working as a secretary. The establishment serves many who are hipper and more beautiful than I. But it's not closing anytime soon, either. We can stay here and order more, talk more. My eyes will soften; I get further from people the more I drink, unlike most others. I hate it when you order another drink and they make it in a brand new glass (they always do); it's nice but... I've never taken a woman home before, in any sense of the phrase.
You probably see (this) bullshit all the time.
Date: August 18, 2004
Subject: last man standing
did the ark hold at the fragile points, high in the safe space? Waters follow the course set and recede eventually. "Someday a real rain will come . . . " the driver says (heading to the edges of emotional fields). Until then, the poetic bits stashed on high shelves live on.
By now your lip is maybe half-healed, that irritating point of self-suture and tearapart with the wrong expression. Utterances come careful, for if not, then bloody, even when whispered.
For all that do you feel less like a rabbit held by its ears and offered for sale . . . ? Must be hard keeping track of all the new wounds, the scars appearing without the aid of a memory memorialized. Such is the end of seasons sometimes; that gnawing sense, "what have I lived through?"
The courage needed to face family generally tends toward emotional strength, and not the way blood coats the mouth or hand. But there you go. I won't even ask about the infamous glass bodies that once shard their way into your flesh. Human struggle and strife and then a flood. Fitting for changes, even via evacuation and sirens' songs. Glad you found the center of the house and kept your head in the air pockets--of a mother's protection, the pasture's corner, a sense of what *is* above the fray; those poetic bits double-sealed and set up above. Closeted. Hamlet with his mother. Tense, brittle, crucial words. Humans driven inward by the ghost.
No rising waters here. Just the slow current absorbed. First a Court date that soon has to be weathered--more than witness, less than death, this time. Hurricane in monotone. That done, it will be a humanizing trip to California where the good people are. Sturdy and lovely and decadent. Some have made babies. Some are in an apartment I bequeathed to them eleven years ago, like a talisman. Others have set up their high-ceilinged world in the Oakland ghetto and will allow me a dogged corner (to be shared with another of the gray-muzzled, Zoe). No one marked family slugs me, so far, so I'll put that in the reminders of blessings. Looking forward to lots of driving and night stops to act out the rituals of true communion. There will be the ocean and the burnt brown hills.
Then the teaching will be here. As for the profession and what it might be good for, I know no creature that is not sorry to die. It's a tautology. Every one wants to survive, even those who don't know how to want such things. For those it's a problem of recognition. Loathing the mirrored look--the double that defeats the organic--means no chance for one's own recognizance. Bondage sustains.
We all seem to be on trial. So here's to evacuations, evasions, and the eversion of all judgements.
Date: August 14, 2004
A short reply:
Thursday I spent shivering in a fire-house on John's Island, South Carolina. When the air went green and flat and the sky seemed to vibrate, I knew that the warning on the radio "abandon vehicles now; go to the center of your house" was true. I tossed the truck over the corners of fields and made it into the blankets of the rescue boys before the trees broke free off the so-often sodden earth. Tornado.
Today I spent putting the things I like at the top of my closet. My sister and I took the backwoods to Georgia. I was half-glad of the excuse. Family: my mother made us organic chicken, and I cannot eat because my sister hit me and split my lip two days ago. Hurricane, hurricane, "its bright, equivocal eye" (Kenyon).
I am reading about hopeful monsters in a broken-down geranium neighborhood while the trains quote Neko and thunder clear through. I have something split-lip-Wadmalaw-and-Wallace-Stevens to send you, if it survives the flood (any flood).
Impossible drive, you say. I remember the house on Impossible Drive, right there on the corner by Vaisheshika Avenue - it was haunted. Abandon vehicles. Go to the center of your house.
"Lost in Translation" is boring. I tire of flippy indie flicks, tongues in cheeks and eyes on your eyes to see if you see what's in their teeth. I know what's in mine; eyes of a damnable blue dog. I'm never released on my own recognizance. There's nothing to do but drink until night.
P.S. I have been thinking of a phrase, "a creature that is sorry to die," and I can't place it. Perhaps you know. I feel this is often the greatest use of English professors, but occasionally I feel bad about saying that and rescind it with a blush. School starts soon; I've missed the type.
Date: August 11, 2004
By way of trivia and correspondances. . .
looking at the notes for the newest Bonnie Prince Billy collection of old songs, see that "new partner" was pieced together through three studios in three different cities:
which, if you drove north and I drove east, like characters from some SAT puzzle, would be about where our paths might make a cross.
> There's a black tinted sunset with the prettiest of skies
> lay back,lay back, rest your head on my thighs
> There is some awful action that just breathes from my hand
> just breaths from a deed so exquisetly grand
> And you are always on my mind
> Well, I would not have moved if I knew you were here
> Its some special action with motives unclear
> now you'll haunt me, you'll haunt me
> till I've paid for what I've done
> it's a payment which precludes the having of fun
> And you are always on mind
> but hello, I've got a new partner riding with me
> I'v got a new partner, hello
> Now the sun's fading faster, we're ready to go
> there's a skirt in the bedroom that's pleasantly low
> And the loons on the moor, the fish in the flow
> And my friends, my friends still will whisper hello
> We all know what we know, it's a hard swath to mow
> when you think like a hermit you forget what you know
> And you are always on my mind x4
> I've got a new partner, riding with me x3
> I've got a new partner now
Date: August 11, 2004
Subject: strange languages and sweater weather
your cravings would be satisfied up here today. The water is gray and rippled, boatless. The clouds layered and quick, with rare bursts of cold sun. 59 degrees as I rode past the bank clock today at noon. The apartment is cold, as if I were back in San Francisco where indoor heat didn't exist and the chill was just a way of being. Layered.
In the week since I was feeding off your last words, I keep coming across echoes on other pages. They were picked up innocently and taken to various cafe tables and lawn corners without intention. But they ended up sustaining the scene. So many seemed to latch onto, or hatch out, some sense that had eluded me earlier when I wrote back. I knew immediately, down in the marrow, what I was trying to say in response to what you said, but surely I didn't find the stride in my words. The language wouldn't yield. Was so pricked by the re-writing of the word "trust" and the definition of "direction" and the play of "shivers" and day-of-the-dead visions . . . think maybe there will be no end to trying to catch the meanings inherent and elusive and therefore worthy. Talk about lively spirits living inside dead totems and totems for the dead feels so necessary. Beauty in the ruins you said. Keeping the provisional alive. As in, maybe there is some new value can be extracted from the worn-out talismans. One last bit of luck. And of course, that is always the heart of the matter. Everyone knows this, as you're fond of saying, knowing full well almost noone realizes, or can bear to.
One of the things read, finally, was Ondaatje's "Running in the Family": all in one delicious day; stretched out in the shade of eccentric family myths, broken and collected bits of inheritance in the safety of exile. "Before my mother left . . . she went to a fortune-teller who predicted that while she would continue to see each of her children often for the rest of her life, she would never see them all together again. This turned out to be true. . .And my father. Always separate until he died, away from us. The North Pole."
By happy accident, rediscovered Elizabeth Bishop after years and again met Wallace Stevens, both dis ordering the world with something so fragile as words properly handled:
They sang desiring an object that was near,
In face of which desire no longer moved,
Nor made of itself that which it could not find . . .
Three times the concentred self takes hold, three times
The thrice concentred self, having possessed
The object, grips it in savage scrutiny,
Once to make captive, once to subjugate
Or yield to subjugation, once to proclaim
The meaning of the capture, this hard prize,
Fully made, fully apparent, fully found.
[. . . ]
A complex of emotions falls apart,
In an abandoned spot. Soft, civil bird,
The decay that you regard: of the arranged
And of the spirit of the arranged, douceurs
Tristesses, the fund of life and death, suave bush
And polished beast, this complex falls apart.
And on your bean pole, it may be, you detect
Another complex of other emotions, not
So soft, so civil, and you make a sound,
Which is not part of the listener's own sense.
--("Credences of Summer")
Then, yesterday morning, found this in a book of a far different kind. Of critical encounters:
"Often images arise which are so completely ideographic--divorced from anything like the psychology of character--or so strangely idiosyncratic in design that no connection can be made at the moment. [A man] will find himself trying to move in on what simply cannot be penetrated. I mean move in on with a regressive instinct toward a 'relationship' that derives from the older psychology. . . . But the image, whose existence may be compelling, is as resistant as a stone. It is a phenomenon (the word we use) that may be attached to, but you certainly can't have a dialogue with it. Nor can it be logically enveloped in a narrative. It exists as an accretion or mutation of an embedded concept, all construct, as when one of the [women] put the figure of her truncated body, spasmodic, jigging at the knees, into the idea of Yorick's skull. It (she) couldn't and wouldn't respond when it occurred . . . but it (she) could be played with in a structure, as Hamlet does with the skull that the Gravedigger throws up. Sometimes the [lovers] will obtrude on each other's images before they have crystallized in their emergence--and while that may set off another ideogram or gestural train of thought, it may also abort a growth. Here, too, there are no strict guidelines, though they must be fast. We are dealing with the ubiquity of strange languages. In the instant of perceiving, there must be instinctual discretion. Or there is confusion, turmoil, scattering, and irritable cacophony of imagistic response that succeeds only in canceling itself out. The ghosting question is the determining principle: what exactly is being seen? and how, in the instant, can it be seized? within the teleology of the impulse: to act, critically, in accordance with that."
In accordance with what grows "venerable in the unreal,"
Date: August 5, 2004
Subject: immune apron strings
Does the Charleston migration seem like so much wasted commotion? All these tiny lives strangely pieced together, with all the movement but all of it returning to the same place, the same rituals, the same same. I love that opening to DeLillo's "White Noise"; parents, children, and college all coming down to the security of "massive insurance coverage." Where do they go? Why not just stay and wait out the summer there in the thunderstorms and rank sweat and island isolation ("At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; Neither from nor towards; at the still point , there the dance is, But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, where past and future are gathered")?
Having seen it play out from Santa Barbara to State College I can easily imagine them all in pony tails and baseball caps driving hand-me-down Acuras or hand-to-me pickups, circulating around each other herdlike, giddy as wildebeest. And now I see you in the middle of their swirl, anachronistically, in a short velvet jacket of blue. What do you drink in the crowded rooms? One senses you take your Knob Creek neat when the bar is quiet and there is the chance simply to melt into the music and the flashes of a barman's rag on wood. But when the animals are all around, and aren't at all like the company of Mr. Jeremy Fisher, forcing you to keep alert in the fray?
Of course their eyes are less blue, seeing less all through, not even knowing where the blind spots are.
Blinded by a warm night and a power outage that killed the soothing fans, a few mornings ago I staggered outside just after dawn, head thick from too much gin at a sidewalk table the night before. I was looking for the cause of the lost power. Don't know what I expected to find. A car run through a corner pole, maybe. Shuffling along the path by the flowers my hand reflexively closed around a wasp that had flown through my slack fingers. I felt the angry vibrations, realized with great clarity that this was my worst fear--pathological reaction to them and yellowjackets--and flailed it away. Had to duck and "run" from its understandable assault. I wasn't bitten. It didn't have to bite. Its point was made. Like the idea that you send these slinking boys and falsely aggressive girls away with their heartrates up and anxieties born out on prickly skin.
But no doubt even there, a dangerous form of staking a claim. The pointed drive of desire. It takes that response--what do you want from me?--to pierce the narcissism of wanting someone for whatever reasons reflect needs. And yes, if those needs be ultimately named, well, then, find the answer to such cravings in an advertisement, a book of remedies, a film plot, or dreamt oracles of certainties. Though if it is true that the truth lives in the emptied inside of the papier-mache shape of what truly lives within those expressive definitions, in the shadows of those sugary skulls that might melt in the mouth as we mash the words "I knew him" with "I know her". . . then move the puppets into place and watch with disbelief what binds movements to the material. Flesh to flesh, palms to angry vibrations and steering wheels and weighted tumblers and velvet jackets, for only there the dance is.
The three from the sea were wonderful, so three plunges into the holiday black waters, please.
Whatever memories of summerescapades, no escape from the now and the rest of the then. The poison drips down those tethering wires that hold us up. "You're on earth, there's no cure for that." It only kills when you don't know it swims within, so maybe it should be welcome when it wells up each morning in the deathly taste of the night before. What is there to do then but rise and, sometimes against all the gravity and feelings of being ungrounded, choose. For you, silk.
I've been carrying around the heavy image of your sister's wounded hand for the past days. The very word "scissors" hurts. Her age. You as guardian. Family Court is the worst of all institutions and I'm sorry you ever touched it. This is not the space to listen to the answers to the questions I would tentatively ask. Maybe someday on that impossible drive or on that elusive porch.
It is midday and cool here, time to ride to the coffee space and flick at the various projects.
Hope the storms passing brought something fresh to the air.
Date: August 2, 2004
College Contact Condition: what's intended for two weeks is worn for two years. Without that attractive squint (making us look incredulous and combative instead of merely myopic), Svens looks like Stevens and Charleston looks not-that-bad. And people wonder why we don't visit the opthalmologist: survival of the blurriest - for now.
The upside to holding books right up in your face at two in the morning is that, like a love in the position, you can smell their singular smell - this book, faintly of maple syrup, the real and true sticky blood of red-plaid-boiled-wool Vermonters, and not the Caro of Carolina.
Sharp English nose in the binding - I could drink it straight.
Date: July 29, 2004
Subject: cradled in a creek bed
What haunts when weary.
Yesterday afternoon: the campus chores of text orders, syllabus tinkering, mail collection, andcopying the whole of a book a distant library wanted back. So many late July days lost in sweaty sameness.
Salvation in that after it is seamless to find a cafe seat by the lake. There the sun won its battle with the fog and shined on the page of Kinnell's "Book of Nightmares":
We who live out our plain lives, who put
our hand into the hand of whatever we love
as it vanishes,
as we vanish,
and stumble toward what will be, simply by arriving,
a kind of fate,
some field maybe, of flaked stone
scattered in starlight
where the flesh
swaddles its skeleton a last time
before the bones go their way without us,
might we not hear, even then,
the bear call
from the hillside--a call, like ours, needing
to be answered--and the dam-bear
call back across the darkness
of the valley of not-knowing
the only word tongues shape without intercession,
yes . . . yes . . . ?
Rode downtown and searched for used books. It was six o'clock and the commuters had left. The streets were empty. When the workday is done the city, barely twitching to begin with, takes on a post-apocalypse calm.
Found a fat Mulisch called "The Discovery of Heaven" for myself and a couple of gifts for others, then slipped off the streets and onto the paved path that runs north, under the city streets and bridges, canyoned by shallow banks of trees and running beside the river.The space collects runners, dog-walkers, moronic roller-bladers, Russian immigrants walking side-by-side, always squat and plump (I can't help but wonder what they see and feel here, what they miss of what used to be home), couples on bikes (badly outfitted in lycra; a workout ensemble bought on resolution), fathers and kids on bikes (the boys pedalling fierce and serious), commuters, ghetto packs of BMXers, road racers in a slipstream line, weaving through the rest. My bag was overfilled and the coffee had flushed out and left me empty. I soft-pedalled it the whole way. Even slow runners passed me. Had Iron and Wine coming in through the headphones and couldn't be in a hurry. When a line came that echoed what you had written--about mittens, the simple repetition of "please, please, please"--it was as if you had stepped out of the shrubbery to walk beside for a spell.
Date: July 16, 2004
Subject: belief in all sorts of pretty
I once knew a woman who was born on the fourth of July. It went well with the fact that she was a coal miner's daughter. She spent her life as I knew it searching for an American cliche that would fit. The restless search itself may have been the only one that did. Bastille Day is oh so much better as a mark of your entrance. A true revolution. The real bloody show. Hope you paid tribute to your mother, who was there too, suffering through all the terror of releasing you from the prison, and after the fulfilled promise that emergences with the bodiless head, surely calling on an old, otherwise forgotten line from a musty Buchner script she had once been given: "The beauty that shines from her precious body *can't* be put out." Robed in purple muck and congealed ooze you were surely crying then, and probably even sort of pretty.
Though not as pretty as now.
And that's not the difference between being a woman rather than a screaming infant; roaring into theworld in different ways. It's what comes knowing what exists around you. Evolution can happen to those so aware they shift the gravity. An aesthetic adjustment that is more than mere appearance. Rushing ahead. A revolution, leapfrogging the generations of our own lives' development, for the sake of survival without waiting for some forever-future fitness. Realization, craving, extension, a strengthening of the spine; right down into the core of it all. So sustained, strong enough to hold those conjoined circus freaks above us, hands to hand-stands, heaven on earth. It's all too much: the twilight times, the waffles (the cruel fact that it's caro syrup and not real maple syrup), the story that keeps changes changing in retrospective looks; lightning strikes on the watermark and there it is, the truth of it so different sometimes; no wonder the baby girl in the photographs is always startled at the flash. She already knows it's not quite as pure as a mother and daughter on a sandy strand. She just doesn't know how to know. She can only feel the investments. You know and feel. Now. More than most, it seems. Welcome to your twenty-fourth year, and welcomed with a green garland like gingerbread. Let it be worth the wait, like the lover on the bed or the first of the assembly to broach the holy silence, speaking it while breaking it.
To write of a feeling that comes like the warm patch of lakewater is exquisite. Do not stop trying,restlessly and without apology, to ferry meaning out of the well worn words.
And am I the same as my words and books? Maybe yes because if the conclusions truly are carefully culled and collected, they are like sea shells I've picked up, and with them in my hand I try to imagine what the life is like when they are inhabited. A lot of them are broken, bits of strange species, some too small, some too smelly, some beautifully spectrumed like an abalone halo. And when I'm holding one I tend to forget the others back at the house, the ones found long ago and set out on the sill of west-facing windows. And if the bibliographies carried on my back and stacked on the walls have any value beyond cipher and distraction, maybe it is that they have somehow taught--with the same force of wrong words said at the wrong time, unrequited dreams, the acrid taste of dangerous and demeaning desires, obliviousness, kindnesses extended, an attentiveness that caught some essential look of things, or deep memories of hearing the same ocean when lapsing into sleep as when awakened--to know what it is that should be kissed goodnight: a bare hip that takes the fold of the book. And like the rest, that knowledge is part of a "slow education." The footnotes are infinite. But I try to read them. I know now it will be endless . . . with the only rewards found in the pause (or puppy paws) along the way. I teach that I have nothing to teach. I teach, or show, I hope, the phreatic eruption that occurs when the word strikes, or when we try to go back into our selves to figure out how we figure, and there get lost; when we struggle to reinvent what was so as to get a clearer view of what will be and what cannot be and what is possible and what could be completely unexpected. And that none of it is to be trusted. Reel around the edges all the time . . . even when trailing a finger along the remnants collected on the peeling paint and holding there the already set warmth of the world.
Either that or there is no connection whatsoever.
Sip. Shrug. Smile.
We'll let the conjunctions do the work.
Here's to your birth and your beautiful sense of "and".
From: D. br>
Date: July 14, 2004
Subject: eversinces and rebirths
Before your message shone through, came back from a walk to the bluffs above the lake. The grass at the edges waved in the wind and when the clouds coming in met the lakefog everything palled indistinguishable. Sat there, in that gray, some twenty feet from a girl immersed in her book, wrapping herself in page and the blanket she was stretched on, reading on into the coming dark. While she read, I was thinking of the word "shame" and the ways it carries so much wrong weight but feels right for those thousand reasons left unlisted; the wait for the piercing encounter, a meeting with something that isn't pure fantasy, defense, or desire, but as you said . . . authentic. Seems the one is needed to catch the breath of the other. Shared, then. No, not an easy state.
Yes, there is all that has been, whether as regret, grief, or ecstatic standard. There is no escaping the way they wave in on our insides and push us into the future. But at the same time, perhaps, when we are just right (or just and right), there is our openness--something more discreet than the drives of want and expectation. Everything will be born as if for the first time the moment some One enters our orbit profoundly, in a different way from all the other hikers dying on the trial of that steep trail. "Shame" for the fraudulent parts of the past and the lovelessness of Being that creeps into everyone, if they are truly alive. . . both born out of the contrast with the moment that, when it comes, will be something reborn over and over, always passing, always returning as something new. Maybe. (None of the words quite do it right, which is why, I imagine, you string out all those metaphors you break apart and re-set, re-cast, revive; all of them stronger at the sutured lines of your devising).
Imagine the momentary must be found in your working days with the children, their presentness wonderfully unstable even in nap or stillness, unguarded even when guarded, untouched even when full of mimic and profundity; who else would have faith in remembering when they died?
Walked back with a movie under arm and found your words.
Then watched _Sex and Lucia_, like an elaboration of what you sent: ghosts returning, tragic and necessary. A path of desire, word, dream, and the wandering through all those things that leads to the sand island past all of it, the circle re-drawn on the torn map.
Going to Virginia for the weekend. No map needed for that. I just drift east until the dragonflies appear out the window. Call the attendant and ask that the pilot put the plane down. [...]