Summer Night With Books

June 27, 2010 § 4 Comments

Wretched heat. The cat growling. Back pain. Anxiety. But it’s still June! Solstice month, out-of-school month, that tag end of days before real summer when as I kid I was laziest, released from the social prison of school to the pleasure of books, staying in my room to read all day before we went wherever we went.

My mother has recently confessed that when we were all packed off to school, she wouldn’t do housework or any of that; she’d pick up a book and read. Her activity in the afternoons and evenings were all we saw: the second half of her day. She had four children, a big house, a husband, a social life. She made herself dresses from pictures in Vogue—sewing late into the night—and went to a lot of parties, theaters and restaurants. But mostly she read.

Mostly, I read. I don’t do any of that other stuff very often, except restaurants, which are to NYC living what cars are to everyone else. There were children once, part-time; now I have cats. The husband is part-time. The big house I don’t even dream about anymore because it feels like having that much house—what I grew up with—would be like gaining 100 pounds and how would I climb the subway stairs?

I read and sing to the cats and wander the streets that throb with energy—wild torrents of screaming youth I move through, barely noticing; I write in the mornings and the evenings; I eat and do the dishes and read; I wait, which is wrong, but I’ve always waited, so I might as well let it be. I read some more.

This moment has so many layers. Under the anxiety is watchfulness. Under that are little bubbles of bliss: time is so startling and beautiful, look at it, you couldn’t make up anything like that, could you? Given a raw universe?

Here’s a piece of it: a black oval hairbrush, tangled long brown hair, the child running off, the woman in her own life, the hair still being untangled, strand by strand, the copper glint…what story am I telling? Why am I alone tonight?

One Train May Hide Another

(sign at a railroad crossing in Kenya)
In a poem, one line may hide another line,
As at a crossing, one train may hide another train.
That is, if you are waiting to cross
The tracks, wait to do it for one moment at
Least after the first train is gone. And so when you read
Wait until you have read the next line–
Then it is safe to go on reading.
In a family one sister may conceal another,
So, when you are courting, it’s best to have them all in view
Otherwise in coming to find one you may love another.
One father or one brother may hide the man,
If you are a woman, whom you have been waiting to love.
So always standing in front of something the other
As words stand in front of objects, feelings, and ideas.
One wish may hide another. And one person’s reputation may hide
The reputation of another. One dog may conceal another
On a lawn, so if you escape the first one you’re not necessarily safe;
One lilac may hide another and then a lot of lilacs and on the Appia
Antica one tomb
May hide a number of other tombs. In love, one reproach may hide another,
One small complaint may hide a great one.
One injustice may hide another–one colonial may hide another,
One blaring red uniform another, and another, a whole column. One bath
may hide another bath
As when, after bathing, one walks out into the rain.
One idea may hide another: Life is simple
Hide Life is incredibly complex, as in the prose of Gertrude Stein
One sentence hides another and is another as well. And in the laboratory
One invention may hide another invention,
One evening may hide another, one shadow, a nest of shadows.
One dark red, or one blue, or one purple–this is a painting
By someone after Matisse. One waits at the tracks until they pass,
These hidden doubles or, sometimes, likenesses. One identical twin
May hide the other. And there may be even more in there! The obstetrician
Gazes at the Valley of the Var. We used to live there, my wife and I, but
One life hid another life. And now she is gone and I am here.
A vivacious mother hides a gawky daughter. The daughter hides
Her own vivacious daughter in turn. They are in
A railway station and the daughter is holding a bag
Bigger than her mother’s bag and successfully hides it.
In offering to pick up the daughter’s bag one finds oneself confronted by
the mother’s
And has to carry that one, too. So one hitchhiker
May deliberately hide another and one cup of coffee
Another, too, until one is over-excited. One love may hide another love
or the same love
As when “I love you” suddenly rings false and one discovers
The better love lingering behind, as when “I’m full of doubts”
Hides “I’m certain about something and it is that”
And one dream may hide another as is well known, always, too. In the
Garden of Eden
Adam and Eve may hide the real Adam and Eve.
Jerusalem may hide another Jerusalem.
When you come to something, stop to let it pass
So you can see what else is there. At home, no matter where,
Internal tracks pose dangers, too: one memory
Certainly hides another, that being what memory is all about,
The eternal reverse succession of contemplated entities. Reading
A Sentimental Journey look around
When you have finished, for Tristram Shandy, to see
If it is standing there, it should be, stronger
And more profound and theretofore hidden as Santa Maria Maggiore
May be hidden by similar churches inside Rome. One sidewalk
May hide another, as when you’re asleep there, and
One song hide another song; a pounding upstairs
Hide the beating of drums. One friend may hide another, you sit at the
foot of a tree
With one and when you get up to leave there is another
Whom you’d have preferred to talk to all along. One teacher,
One doctor, one ecstasy, one illness, one woman, one man
May hide another. Pause to let the first one pass.
You think, Now it is safe to cross and you are hit by the next one. It
can be important
To have waited at least a moment to see what was already there.

–Kenneth Koch


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§ 4 Responses to Summer Night With Books

  • What a beautiful, lyrical piece of writing! I love the description of your daily life – reading and singing to the cats and trailing the streets like some crazed Irish woman with dishevelled hair (that’s how I imagine it anyway.) And your tantalising glimpse of the ‘raw universe’. Actually, your life sounds quite blissful to me. I envy it…

  • Margaret Diehl says:

    Thank you. That is the goal of writing, I think: to take any life and make it seem enviable, not always directly (one can write about hideous things) but by virtue of being lived. Use it! as my teacher always insisted. Loneliness, whatever…I just finished rereading “Before and After” by Charlie Smith, which is about a family life no one would want but he writes about it with such precision and deep authority I found myself but feeling left out.

    I know this isn’t quite what you meant about enviable–you’re busier than I am–but the whole question of being busy or not is something I have too much to say about for a comment.

  • Margaret Diehl says:

    on a lighter note, I find it charming that wordpress reminds me, as I comment, that I am the author of this post…just in case I forgot and made a fool of myself..

  • Yes, you’ve gotta love wordpress. After I’d published my first post, I got a message in my inbox saying someone had left a comment. I excitedly logged on to read it and found a message from ‘Mr WordPress’ that began,’Hi, this is a comment.’ Great, I thought, I’m hosting my blog on a platform run by a literal-minded fool with a penchant for stating the obvious…

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