Once Upon a Time, or Not

April 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

Floating Woman by Jean Spitzer

I feel like a child to whom the fairies have given seven magnificent tools and the instruction that with them I can build what I need to save myself, but I don’t know how the tools work, not even what they’re for. Well, I sort of know what they’re for—I know how others use ones that look similar—but imitation gets me nowhere. I have to figure it out from scratch.

I would like to say this is a metaphor for writing a book, that august activity that so many think elevates their struggles to the realm of myth. But writing a book is the least of my concerns.

When I was in 9th grade, the teacher asked: “What’s a myth?” A boy said, “Something that’s not true.” I said, “It’s a story that people tell to explain why things are the way they are,” and got a gold star stamped on my forehead. Metaphorically.

But I’m beginning to think the boy had it right: myths aren’t true. Stories aren’t true. They’re human, necessary, desired by all ages—and more than human:  the bedrock of consciousness, its elemental structure. I’m sure animals have stories. Dogs dream sentimental tales, camels endless sagas. Maybe even ants churn out Fables of the Four Directions. But so what?

I want something else. Something without words, and I’m not talking about sex (or if I am, I don’t know it—text me if you think that’s the case). Am I just reacting to the cult of the story, so prevalent among writers and nonprofit arts organizations? I’ve lived in stories more than sensual life, and I have my regrets: maybe stories are to blame.

Oh, this is a dead end. I’m obviously telling you a story. How the writer lost her chops. How the woman, poisoned by words, fell out of life but death wouldn’t have her. How she floats outside our windows, never seeing us, never responding, and we don’t know how to feel about that. Should we mention her? Should we put a flower on her chest? Maybe it’s best to draw the curtains. It’s been said that certain impressionable young children, seeing this woman, will follow her, even though their bodies stay behind and appear normal. How can we know? When the men go out and hit her with sticks, nothing happens. Her body takes the blows, but isn’t damaged. I don’t think it’s helping, all these angry men. The sticks break. The knives shatter.

The woman poisoned by words won’t be here forever. We can wait. Let the winds come. Hide the books.

Even so, I’m going to a poetry reading tonight and expect to enjoy it. Here’s a poem by one of the poets I’m going to hear.

The Bargain

In the transatlantic fury
when I feared
I might not survive
to see Florence,
clutching an elfin
Love Sonnets of Shakespeare,
I implored:
Lord, let me live
long enough to dare
a love poem

In time, of course, the skies
stopped glowering.
And in the Tuscan summer’s imperial
segue into autumn,
poetry burgeoned—

It’s not only the active grace,
the glory between us:
these praise songs spring
from a holy bargain,
from my deepest desire
to live.

–Cyrus Cassells


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