On a recent morning, while laying very still, I heard my old cat’s regular snoring and was momentarily confused as to whether the sound came from her or from me. She sleeps most of the day and I’ve grown accustom to the faint wheezing of air through old nostrils while I wrestle with words at the computer. We’ve grown old together, my cat and me, she accelerating at a faster pace. I was nearly 50 when she was a kitten, but now I think she might be beginning to pass me up. The arthritic limp I see as she walks across the room is not so pronounced in me. But for just a moment, we seemed to be nearly even keel and I was uncertain who the wheezing came from.
Finding all the pieces. A stack of rags is altered by folding, yet doesn’t try to masquerade as anything other than rags. The broken bowl, settled into a depression made by its own shape, is broken precisely in two halves. I thought of gluing it, but found it rested more whole on this humble stack.
The days my own, their beginnings defined by a cut lemon: glistening, bright, astringent, sharp-sweet smell, held in a triangle of pitted yellow and white pith. One triangle submerged into hot water, an old lady’s drink. I am not embarrassed, have no regrets. I relish the warmth and brightness. The comfort of habit. An anchor in the vast sea of an open day. Coffee will come later with its oppositeness of color and smell and its sameness of something to be counted on. In between these two drinks, before and after their footing, are the words: read, written, and sometimes spoken aloud just to hear the shape of their sounds.
here = there is the chronicle of a placed longed for becoming a place inhabited. Following are selections from the last two years of documenting daily experience on dated postcards. The date images were captured each morning in Two Dot and registered by hand in ink and coffee as the sunlight traversed through a stencil. It is a marriage of precision and in-precision, control and control given away. The postcards were mailed to anyone who asked for them and to some who didn’t.
Today sun in the morning, as if to say “Don’t go.” But we persevere with our to-do lists, the tasks before we pack and leave.
The sun emerges around the house / stands in the middle of the road / and breathes on us with its red blast. / Innsbruck must I leave you.
But tomorrow there will be a glowing sun /in the half-dead grey forest \ where we have to work and live.
“Landscape with Suns” from The Sad Gondolas 1996
A hundred starlings flying around the house disturbed my dreams, pulling me up from sleep's depth with their swirling. It is impossible not to think of Hitchcock’s birds. It is impossible not to want to get out of here.
Starlings have claimed the mornings but in the evening a reasonable flock of yellow warblers and a few red-winged black birds perched in the choke-cherries across the road. Occasionally some collective signal lifts them from the branches and then they settle back down again... maybe spreading to the nearby fence wires... never swarming or threatening.
Wild swings govern my days. The desire to go home suddenly swirls around me, overwhelming... a flock of starlings lifting from the ground at once in a clatter of wing flapping without indication of their unison direction. Both cause me to duck, hoping to avoid collision.
Other times of day are not governed by sudden movements; the rhythm of work setting a tone. It is not complete stillness but movement back and forth with small rises of energy. In these times I am saturated with the desire to continue, as content as the warblers on the fence. But I am imagining that even the warblers must be feeling the urge to re-locate given the hint of winter in the morning chill.
This summer’s twilight is made of smoke. We turn the lights on in the morning to alleviate the dim. Last night was restless and full of coughing. and now the view out the windows is hazed like an ancient oil painting. One window, if I tilt my head just right, holds a classic landscape with a proscenium made of a ripening hay field, trees as curtains on either side. Layers of hills grow progressively soft as they recede. “All the world’s a stage.” There is meaning in the setting as opposed to the action.
John and I will be in the schoolhouse a little longer, but the summer has begun to transition to memories. Guests have moved in and out of the guest bed. At first, Angie who slept downstairs with Jessica but couldn’t keep her eyes from the bed upstairs, not having Jessica’s pension for dark places. Erin removed everything extraneous from the bed. “I am a one pillow girl,” but arranged pillows and a blanket on the floor for meditation. Sara Ann stayed in the schoolhouse alone and in the cavern of the empty rooms, she stripped the bed of all but the sheet and wrapped herself in her own familiar sleeping bag. Alaina made the bed everyday precisely as she found it, but hung her dresses around the room wearing something new everyday. Yvonne was here only one night, but she did not sleep till morning, having a headache that would not give way in the dark. She slept with intense dreams that we discussed later over coffee. Jim made the bed his home for four days, sleeping through the affects of vertigo. Sleep was his only refuge until the world stopped spinning. Lynnette checked on him regularly and joined him at night.... always worried until he was able to stand and we all went to Crystal Lake. Little Ben was the last to sleep in our guest bed. He made the room his own, stacking his clothes, pulling over a little school desk for “work,” arranging all the toys from the house around the bed. His favorite stuffed dog that came in his back pack settled onto the pillows. The first night during a thunder storm, his dad found him sitting upright and crawled in beside him to alleviate the noise and light. To my delight, each morning when he crawled out of the guest bed, he came to me for a hug. All of these stories have become part of the schoolhouse.
Silence is a jealous lover. You court her and get to know her secrets. You find pleasure in her company and she stays with you. But if you ignore her... say in the throws of a house full of people with dinners every night and lingering coffee breakfasts... she is hard to live with again.
Sitting at my table drawing alone, the ache of every departure having lessened, I finally noticed the silence again. The silence that is never silent. Two fresh fir cones, collected on a walk with our son and grandson, began to pop in the warm studio. And there it was, the silence that is full of what is on the table and in the air.
We went to the mountains for the Perseids. We went to the mountains to get away. We went to the mountains to be still. Sitting in chairs we’d carried into the middle of the park, we watched the sun go down and the surrounding trees turn to shadows. We had nothing better to do than sit still and wait. Eventually the stars began to appear, first one and then another until the sky was littered with points of light. Early in the night for a meteor shower, the stars remained still. It was an owl who broke the stillness, repeatedly swooping closer and closer. Owls are famed for sitting still and watching from a perch, but it was us who sat still this night. In the end, it was poor night for the Perseids, We saw only a few meteors before the moon washed the view with too much light, but there was no disappointment.
There is no poetry or cleverness in saying that my heart is full and brimming to my eyes with love for my boy and his son who are here in Two Dot. Just now, in the early morning, they are working out in our schoolyard. Bryan, who is strong and disciplined, hoists himself on the swing set bar and Ben, who is young and eager to imitate his dad, tries to do the same. I can’t stop crying both with love for the two of them and with longing for my own parents... to be in the thick of so much love. But when you are in the thick of it, you never really know what you have. It is the prerogative of the old to see that. I think there is no one left on earth that I could tell this story to and expect complete understanding. Only my mother would cry with my happiness, with my fullness.
Four days with Ben, 7 years old... a magic year. Is it too soon to write down the details? Will it inspire another plate of tears.
Some of the best experiences leave you crying, leave you aching in your middle chest. The transition from experience to memory can be painful. Both can be full of joy, but the space in-between is colored by a hazy sky, an empty bed, and indeterminacy while one thing tries to become another.