Sunday, December 18, 2016

In the Week of the Winter Solstice

Early this morning, through the laundry room window: a tiny square of gray sky, black laurel leaves streaked with snow, and the moon limping westward.

Nothing I ever wanted means anything to me, now: the leaf-shadows nodded on the concrete floor, while the rectangles of moonlight containing them moved just slow enough that I never saw them doing it, like the minute hand of an old clock. There is a metaphor for days and years, here, if I were clever enough to make it. Or maybe there isn't, and I'm just clever enough to tell that there's not, without being able to say why.

The mountain was out this morning, in a new dress of snow, the brilliant white and bluish shadow in stylized blotches, so that I wanted to copy down the ideograph the ridge lines made: forward and backward esses forming the borders between the shades of white. See, I would say, this is the character for mountain.

But there is no need for a character for mountain when the mountain is there to point at. And what's the point of talking about a mountain when it's gone? What are we doing now, and what have we ever done? We have grown old talking about what we remember, or wanted to remember. There's a hitch and slow-down, every time I rise from a chair recently: a caution. Perhaps I cracked a rib the other day.

Tomorrow, maybe, the ice will be gone, and life will be more pliant. My petulance at not being able to go out precisely when and how I like begins to wear on me: and then I think of the people in Mosul or Aleppo, of what real constriction looks like, and I'm ashamed of myself.

I go slowly in the dark, holding my hand out to find the door. There. When the door is at arms' length, the steps up to it are there to be stepped on: two shallow steps and and then a third half-step onto the sill, from the garage into the kitchen. I wonder if this little house is the last physical place I will memorize, and be able to move around easily without light.

Sunday, December 04, 2016


Frontispiece by Walter Crane, 1907

The theme of my recent reading, by chance, if you wish, has been donkeys, asses, burros. I just reread with pleasure Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes -- with an internal shiver at Stevenson's odd precocity: he was in his twenties, but he muses with a brittle, elderly wisdom, as if caught in a temporal backwash from his early death -- and I am slowly making my way through Juan Ramón Jiménez's Platero y Yo. I don't think I've read Platero before, but I wonder if I read it when young and forgot it: if it set me the example for the sort of blog-writing I do best. Anyway, Platero is the poet's donkey, and often addressed in the mode I call "the second person blogular." You -- yes, you -- are the intimate who will understand, though the rest of the world mock: the object of all the tenderness that would otherwise be spilled and wasted.

Stevenson thinks of writing as I do: in the dedication to the Travels he writes:
Every book is, in an intimate sense, a circular letter to the friends of him who writes it.  They alone take his meaning; they find private messages, assurances of love, and expressions of gratitude, dropped for them in every corner.  The public is but a generous patron who defrays the postage.
You can read it in an evening, free from Gutenberg: Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes.