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So I read, lost, every day

In not writing, this is what hurts: not so much the absence of story or fiction or mere text, word count and progress, but the absence of words. True words. Any words. It is hard to lose the part of one's self that thinks in the rhythm of words; the part that sees the movement of water across a flooded lawn and tries to name its shape; the part that sees the first spring buds on the branches by the window and wonders how to shape a sentence, a line, a phrase to evoke this brief moment of joy, this brief flash of green.

To walk as one blind to everything surrounding; to speak only trivialities. To have nothing to say. Nothing at all worth hearing to say.

And I remember that there were ... are ... stories that can make the words come back.

I find on my shelf a book long forgotten, left unread since my final days in university. A funny book, this -- pieces of books, truly, and essays and short fiction and poetry, all bound together and called the Annie Dillard Reader. I'd never read anything by Annie Dillard before this text was assigned and have not read anything by her since -- and yet I suddenly remember how her words were an inspiration. I admired their precision, the shifting balance between obvious simplicity and stunning complexity.

Over and over again I'd read the piece "An Expedition to the Pole," having been shocked all but speechless by it the first time, the structure and deftness of that essay which spoke of polar exploration and the quest for God through formalized religion, and made them one. And over and over again I'd read one paragraph:

I walk in emptiness; I hear my breath. I see my hand and compass, see the ice so wide it arcs, see the planet's peak curving and its low atmosphere held fast on the dive. The years are passing here. I am walking, light as any handful of aurora; I am light as sails, a pile of colorless stripes; I cry "heaven and earth indistinguishable!" and the current underfoot carries me and I walk.

I used to read it aloud, just to feel the way the words tasted, the movements of my tongue as I shaped them.

And now:

I sit down on the edge of my bed and flip the book open right near the end, the lamp on the bedside casting a glow both warm and soft across the pages. A few paragraphs in I begin to read aloud. My voice is slow and stumbling as if from disuse, nervous to be speaking so -- here, in my empty room, in an empty apartment with the rain pounding outside. It is like being in school again, a classroom of one, and the text seems wholly unfamiliar, and my mouth is dry as I speak.

I stumble. I hesitate. I reach and fumble and stutter to a stop, only to begin again.

And this is how I read the lines I think I was meant to find today, a hidden piece from Holy the Firm:

Two years ago I was camping alone in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. I had hauled myself and gear up there to read, among other things, James Ramsy Ullman's The Day on Fire, a novel about Rimbaud that made me want to be a writer when I was sixteen; I was hoping it would do it again. So I read, lost, every day sitting under a tree by my tent, while warblers swung in the leaves overhead and bristle worms trailed their inches over the twiggy dirt at my feet; and I read every night by candlelight, while barred owls called in the forest and pale moths massed round my head in the clearing, where my light made a ring.

"Oh," I say quietly, and let the book fall.

There is a cadence to true words that, once spoken, once written, can never entirely be forgotten. It is not enough to merely write, word after word, and watch them all fall flat and lay there on the page, limp and wrong. The right rhythm must be fought for and sought after and courted, that rhythm when everything seems right; brief and elusive, those moments when words are afire.

I am not writing a story; I am not writing a book. I am not, in truth, writing at all, but rather ... speaking. Narrating what I might once have freewritten, words for the sound of words, for the feel of words, slipping into the air, heard and then gone. Forgotten.

I have been speaking to my empty kitchen in a slow and deliberate voice as I wash the dishes and ladle the soup into small containers, as I pull the last cornbread from the oven and pull it from the tray. And I realize: suddenly words have texture again, and rhythm, and flow, and I hear each with a precision, a clarity that seems to have been lost, wholly absent, for weeks and months -- no, in truth, gone from me for years. Two years, more -- need I count them? And while I know that they will leave me again, the brief clarity of such composition vanishing and leaving only the weight and fog of the everyday, it seems that perhaps the poetry is out here too, elusive but present, just waiting to be spoken.


Apr. 18th, 2008 01:08 am (UTC)
Re: Meditation on a theme
I remember a time as a child when it suddenly occurred to me to ask: if someone knows more than one language, then what language do they think in?

I asked :D. My oldest son's godfather is fluently bilingual in English and Japanese (father is white American, mother born in Tokyo), and his mother never spoke a word of English to either of her children that wasn't part of a grammar question.

His response: He thinks about some things in English and some in Japanese because either language throws up barriers to certain kind of thoughts, and makes others more easily accessible.