Traveling Through the Dark (William Stafford, 1962)

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I just finished this book after two years of reading; a very long time for one collection of poetry, especially one as short as this — 100 pages, more or less. I am glad I went slowly, however. Some of his language reminds me of early Auden, although that is a comparison I am not truly qualified to make — still, I saw it, whether or not it is accurate. But aside from those very occasional moments of obliquity, most of the poems in this volume are deceptively simple, making it easy just to rush through, reading for sense and the evocative phrase without looking deeper. I still lack a proper aesthetics of poetry, so I cannot really articulate what it is that deeper means to me, but experientially I found that if I liked a poem on first reading, it was worth my time to read it four or five times, slowly, pausing between the readings to feel the shape of it. Once the shape came, I could enter into it, or perhaps it to me, and feel the connections that poetry makes outside of words or logic or thought, which for me is the greatest reward of reading it; it is a knowledge like the knowledge of the body, how I may ride a bike or type these words or slice an apple without having to think through each instant of motion.

Here is one poem I liked very much:

Things We Did That Meant Something (1958)

Thin as memory to a bloodhound’s nose,
being the edge of some new knowing,
I often glance at a winter color–
husk or stalk, a sunlight touch,
maybe a wasp nest in the brush
near the winter river with silt like silver.

Once with a slingshot I hit a wasp nest:—
without direction but sure of right,
released from belief and into act,
hornets planed off by their sincere faith.
Vehement response for them was enough,
patrolling my head with its thought like a moth:—

“Sometime the world may be hit like this
or I getting lost may walk toward this color
far in old sunlight with no trace at all,
till only the grass will know I fall.”

What may I say about that better than what Stafford said himself? To do something which means, to release oneself from belief into action, the way that in nature there is reaction to the action without thought, and the realisation of fragility, that the world may be rocked by a blow out of nowhere, whether it is the outside world or one’s internal world. It is very simple, a clear picture, a story of a moment, and it also expands into much more. To be simple without being facile is either a great gift or hard-earned craft; Stafford, I think, began with the first and in his habit of writing daily developed the second. I am looking forward to more of his work, read slowly over the next years.

a bright Friday

I am starting very late today, although not too late to write a few hundred words if only I can focus.  There were various chores to do first, and some reading I wanted to finish up, and emails to send, and so the time goes.  But now I am ready to begin writing, and trying this space to warm up once more.  I am pleased, oh my Faithful Reader, that you are glad to see me trying again.  It has been many years now that you and I have spoken, even if the silences have been long.

So, what is there to say today? It is bright outside, not as warm as earlier in the week but still warmer than during the holidays — and for most of the world in winter, ridiculously so, but here it is normal, these bright breezy days like an early spring. In the garden at my daughter’s school narcissus grow in abundance, they are beautiful but also bring some sadness; the teacher she had at the beginning of the year loved that garden and put much care into it and into sharing it with the students, and now he is gone from the school, for what reasons I do not know, but it was not of his own will. But the garden remains, and today perhaps when I pick my daughter up I will encourage her to come with me and smell the flowers.

warming up

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I was talking to a friend about writing, as we sat in winter sunshine and ate brunch; rich food, the kind we both grew up with, meat and cheese and milk and bread, comforting but with those little twists that allows the restaurant to charge so much for it. I was saying I did not know how to find a good balance, between working on the work itself (the novel, except it may be too short to be a novel, so — the work), and writing other places where I can communicate with those who someday might wish to read the actual work. Speaking to this friend about these things is interesting, as he has no wish or need to write himself, but he does like to read, and he has both the leisure and the resources to follow the careers of whatever writers he wishes, in whatever depth he chooses.

One of his thoughts was that those writers he likes to follow use a space such as this to warm up before beginning their work on their fiction, the writing in the blog along with a cup of coffee or something such, a little connection to the outside before diving within.

So I am here, trying it. I am not certain what I think. Once it is regular to write here there will be a rhythm to it, but to begin with it is like anything, a little confused in the path and uncertain how to start. It makes me miss a little the tumblr I kept for a while, which was more pleasure than work; arranging other people’s words and images is always simpler than creating my own. But it is creating my own that warms up the hands and the words both — and now that they feel so, I will go see if I can make some fiction.

fruit of roses

Food as well as flowers, I ended with last time — and afterwards I remembered how when I first moved to this house in the autumn, I found the roses beautiful but I knew nothing of how to care for them. They are not picky, not the ones at this house, but if one wishes them to bloom again and again it is good to cut off the heads of the flowers after the petals has fallen, to tell the plant it will not have the seeds and must try once more. Not knowing, I left the heads upon the bushes, and eventually they turned from green to a beautiful orange, and from there perhaps even to red, I do not quite remember, for at some point in the winter I began to love the roses and wish to care for them and so read and learned to cut off the little orange-red balls that still remained and put them into the yard waste bin with the rest of the debris from the garden.

It was not a bad choice, that, but now I have discovered that I could instead have saved them when I cut them, and trimmed the top and bottom off and cut the ball open to remove the seeds — and what was left would have been rose hips, to make into a tea, or to cook and puree for a soup, or even to make into a jam were I so bold. Perhaps this year I will make the experiment and if they please me I will have food from the flowers as well, the fruit of my roses.

the everyday

Life continues, as it does when one is not looking; the garden makes its roses, the orange trees flower and fruit and the fruit falls and lies in the dead leaves waiting to be cleaned up.  Across the street the blackberries come, although less than the year before; it is drought here, a severe one, dry and dust and surprisingly humid in these August days.  I am amazed the blackberries come at all when I think of it, that the plant has grown so and made so much fruit despite months without rain.  Stubborn, that one, and the thorns long and sharp and the fruit very sweet.  I think tomorrow I might go to pick some, if I can make the time.  The warm humid days tire me, not in the body but in the heart, too close and still outside, although today it was pleasant in the morning, a cool gray sky to start and more wind before the heat came.  I know there are people who love the summer, and in June even I am a little won over, but as always I am well sick of it now and waiting impatiently (but without true hope) for autumn wind and rain.

Last fall I crossed the continent to see my dear friend; this year only half of it, as we have decided to meet in the middle.  Five days, a feast beyond what I could have imagined, although many things to do in the time, not just the two of us together for the whole.  Still, I will see him some each day, and we may go to the ballet, and there will be some meals, one or two perhaps cooked together.  It hurts to think of it, so often I do not, but tonight I am finding that to avoid those thoughts which hurt is just another way not to live (had I not learned that already?  I am deeply annoyed with myself, well, good, then let it change) and I am sick of that as well.  Half-sick of Shadows, I might write, except I do not imagine myself the Lady of Shalott, languishing in her tower waiting to look at what must not seen and die of it.  No, I will turn, and look, and then live after all.  An image of the female artist as seen by a Victorian man, my excellent professor said, the contradictions made manifest, imprisoned, creating, but killed by her own vision.  A good thing we have reached the 21st century.

But I meant when I began this to write of the garden; my household has collaborated with another to make planter boxes and fill them with vegetables and thus we have been rich in tomatoes, zucchini and peppers for the last month or so.  It has slowed now, some the drought, some just the pause before another harvest, but still, it amazes and satisfies both, the richness of it, having food outside which one may simply go pick and eat.  After a hungry childhood, satisfying and surprising both, down into the bones.  I think from now on, wherever I live, I will try to have a garden which gives me food as well as flowers.

starting again

What an age it has been since I have tried to write here, a little lifetime it feels, not that things have changed so much — indeed, that is perhaps why it feels a lifetime, for my life has settled into patterns, rhythms of days unbroken by any surprises despite the capacity for great surprise the world must hold.  It is in me, the settling, I think, and right now I am turning around perplexed, pressing at the walls I have made for myself, something like the stereotyped mime in the invisible box, trying to find what it is that holds me in place when there is nothing visible or concrete.  

But the answer to any kind of stuck, for me, is always to write.  And so I write, here, because it is mine, and perhaps it will be beautiful, or not, or wise, or some good thing, or perhaps I will post this and then vanish again for a year.  I cannot guess.  Still, I write tonight, reaching out from these invisible walls into the world I love and miss and desire and fear so much.  I said to my friend, some few days or weeks back, that my heart and I are often not on speaking terms (yes, stealing the line, but only as it was true), and he said he thought that a reason why I so often feel that I cannot find my heart at all, or the rest of my self.  But talking to my heart in my closet seems distasteful, just pacing the space of the cage, and so — here.  For now.

 

 

a taste of winter

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My stranger on the bus was right; we had perhaps 10 days of true winter here, no snow on the hills that I saw (too dry, we are in the drought again, one good rain since autumn began and no more), but freezing temperatures night after night, and in the morning my breath hung in the air, and the water left outside froze as it was meant to, cracking into patterns when touched. Opening the door to my bedroom in the early morning I look across the small space of hall and stairwell to the window, out across the neighbour’s roofs; during those two weeks they were covered in frost, just a thin sheet but so beautiful. Of course to be too cold in the body is unpleasant, and this house is not made for it, it happens so rarely, but I did not mind just for the ten days, with my hot tea or hotter coffee to comfort me, and long fleece pants and warm sweaters and a blanket over my lap in the meanwhile. And as this is where it is, by afternoon the sun made it warm again; the frost could not last an hour after dawn. But still, a touch of winter, and I delighted in it.

My dear friend lives where the winter comes hard and stays long, ice to make the streets glass and tree branches collapse, snow for days or weeks on end. I do not envy him the inconvenience of it, or the real danger there is some times, power going out, the need to know where the food and fresh water are, to have the plan in case one has no heat for a long while. But I hear his stories, look at the pictures, and think for myself — someday, I will be somewhere else, a place in which water does not vanish three years of every four, a place with the seasons that are still in my bones despite my nearly two decades of absence from them. Another city, another country, perhaps somewhere I must struggle with the language. In one of my favourite books (one I dare not reread; it may not be palatable now and the loss of it would be a tragedy) the man says, “I want to see a different light,” and chooses a year of travel and death from illness at the end rather than to stay in his home forever safe and secure and long-lived. A young person’s story, you might say, but when I was young I thought him foolish not to remain with the sure thing, and now, now I am waiting my own time to go. Once again, glory over length of days, but this time not my own — and who knows? There is no reason I might not have both.

the man on the bus

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I flew across the continent, north and east, to see my dear friend and also go learn some new things — in that order, although ostensibly perhaps the reverse.  My flight came in very late, flying against the sun, so earlier in my body than in the city where I landed, and when I finally found the bus I needed to take me to my hotel it was quite night, and I was tired and hungry and elated with the newness of it all and knowing I would see my friend the next day.  So on the bus, rather than sitting quietly once a seat came open and reading or daydreaming, I stood and listened to conversation, two men, one older, exuberant, telling everyone who would listen his story, the other younger, Francophile by his accent, rather bemused to be on the receiving end of this attention but I think also pleased.  The younger had come from a vacation somewhere south, an island, and was going back to his small town three hours away from where we had all arrived, to his work driving a taxi.  The older was an electrician with a travelling show, just come from Moscow, and he told stories of the places he’d been — no, not even the places, the weather.  Stories of the weather he had seen, the cold he had just left behind in Moscow, the heat of Arizona where the walk-in freezer where the food was kept became a favourite place for him to take naps, the wind in a third place (Texas?) that made his work difficult, his love of the ocean near his home where he would sail and his friends would tease him for wearing too little or too much clothing depending on where he had most recently been for his work.

I stood, listening, watching their faces, the younger man engaging, answering questions, the older telling his stories, enjoying the audience, and I made the little noises now and again, that I was listening, and once or twice asked a question, and then suddenly he turned and asked me where I lived, and I told him — not too far from his ocean home.  He said something about the weather here, and I admitted that I missed true autumn, true winter, and that in my travel I was hoping to have a little taste of cold before going back home to the dry sun.  And suddenly serious, he said to me, that it would be a true winter back at home, as true as it might be, cold enough that there is snow on the hills once or twice, and that he was not certain how he knew it, but he did know, he felt it, it would be a cold winter.  Then laughing again, he said, but not as cold as Moscow!  And he picked his thread back up and began the stories once more.

Now, of course, he might be right, and he might not be right, and either way the winter will be what it is, unchanged by his guesses or knowledge.  But now that I have that to carry with me, if I choose, I may look forward with some amusement to see if he guessed correctly — and regardless of what comes it is sealed into my memory now, standing on that bus going through the dark strange city, from the brilliance of the airport to the spaces between and then the new lights of downtown, strange buildings and signs, listening to him predict my winter.

autumn in the west

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My faithful reader asked me what is blooming in my garden right now; an excellent question, although I fear rather a dull one, for while the calendar insists upon autumn, and my body the same, the weather here where I live is still heat and sun and no rain, and my garden is all roses and sunflowers and citrus trees. Not that these ever fade, but the sunflowers will eventually go to seed, and the roses slow for the winter, even stop blooming entirely for a few months, while the citrus continues stubbornly to provide me with lovely and delicious fruit which I would (do) enjoy if only I was not so hungry for cold, wet, ice, snow, all the things this place rarely if ever provides. November, perhaps, the cold and wet, but never the ice and snow, not here. Someday I will move somewhere that my body and the seasons may be in sync again, and then I will complain about defrosting cars and shovelling walks and yearn for the first sight of spring rather than throwing my hands up in despair when February brings daffodils.

In spite of all of that, or perhaps because of it, I love autumn passionately. And this new house I moved into last year, only twenty miles south of the previous, is just enough more inland from the ocean that the weather is a little colder in the autumn and winter, so there is more excuse to drink hot tea (and chocolate, and buttered rum in the evenings) and wear slippers and wish I had a fireplace. So in spite of my continual frustration there are things to look forward to.  And if the man I spoke to on the bus is right (a story for another time, dear reader, you will like it), the winter will be unusually cold and sharp here — though why he should have been right I do not know, except that I would enjoy the weather.

betwixt and between

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A busy time; I have many things to say and no space in which to say them, as the year turns towards pencils, chalkboards, books, or in this modern day I suppose laptops and ipads and so forth.  But I have hopes for this weekend, and next week.  A post saying there is no time to speak may seem a tautology, but I imagine that my one or two readers might like to know the reason of my silence.  There are, after all, so many kinds.

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