March 18, 2017 § Leave a comment
This picture is a few years old, but it suits the day
I went on a post-birthday walk in Washington Square Park, the air scrubbed clean and the sky a nice wintry white. Depositing checks, buying salmon and salad and green grapes and coffee beans but mostly getting out to remember these days are precious, even at their most ordinary, even with money worries and the housework not done (for months), the novel unfinished; it’s unknown how many I have left. I engaged in that useless rumination: if I live ten more years, twelve more years, fifteen more years, how many books can I write, countries can I visit, beauty take in, kindness offer.
The answer is simple: some, maybe. Today I let the beauty of an icy sidewalk pause me (memories of childhood slipping, skating, daydreaming) and the perfection of a tumble of grapes bring associations of art and books and the pleasure of feeding a loved person: I may nibble on a few, but Charles will eat most of them. And now I am petting the little cat who is always at my side, Sister Milk Paws, and she gazes at me with what may not be devotion but looks like it. I thank the invisible watchmaker for the exquisiteness of whiskers.
I am sixty-two. My brother, who has been dead a long time, would be sixty-six. I can’t live for him and he remains nowhere; my thoughts, others’ thoughts are our own productions, not keeping him here even a tiny bit. I’m writing a novel about a woman who tries to keep her dead husband with her; who sees his ghost; readers can make up their own minds, but I am not writing a real ghost. That’s for another sort of book. She comes back from the abyss she wants to enter (spoiler).
Why I started this book—long ago—doesn’t matter; what matters now are the little descriptions I wedge in, of New York in 2005 and 1975; of chocolates, high heels and spring; of love, grief, envy and fear; of the ceaseless movement of the mind over the bumpy pitfall world and coiled power of others.
A great poet died yesterday. Here is one of my favorites, set in my own neighborhood.
In the Village
By Derek Walcott
I came up out of the subway and there were
people standing on the steps as if they knew
something I didn’t. This was in the Cold War,
and nuclear fallout. I looked and the whole avenue
was empty, I mean utterly, and I thought,
The birds have abandoned our cities and the plague
of silence multiplies through their arteries, they fought
the war and they lost and there’s nothing subtle or vague
in this horrifying vacuum that is New York. I caught
the blare of a loudspeaker repeatedly warning
the last few people, maybe strolling lovers in their walk,
that the world was about to end that morning
on Sixth or Seventh Avenue with no people going to work
in that uncontradicted, horrifying perspective.
It was no way to die, but it’s also no way to live.
Well, if we burnt, it was at least New York.
Everybody in New York is in a sitcom.
I’m in a Latin American novel, one
in which an egret-haired viejo shakes with some
invisible sorrow, some obscene affliction,
and chronicles it secretly, till it shows in his face,
the parenthetical wrinkles confirming his fiction
to his deep embarrassment. Look, it’s
just the old story of a heart that won’t call it quits
whatever the odds, quixotic. It’s just one that’ll
break nobody’s heart, even if the grizzled colonel
pitches from his steed in a cavalry charge, in a battle
that won’t make him a statue. It is the hell
of ordinary, unrequited love. Watch these egrets
trudging the lawn in a dishevelled troop, white banners
trailing forlornly; they are the bleached regrets
of an old man’s memoirs, printed stanzas.
showing their hinged wings like wide open secrets.
Who has removed the typewriter from my desk,
so that I am a musician without his piano
with emptiness ahead as clear and grotesque
as another spring? My veins bud, and I am so
full of poems, a wastebasket of black wire.
The notes outside are visible; sparrows will
line antennae like staves, the way springs were,
but the roofs are cold and the great grey river
where a liner glides, huge as a winter hill,
moves imperceptibly like the accumulating
years. I have no reason to forgive her
for what I brought on myself. I am past hating,
past the longing for Italy where blowing snow
absolves and whitens a kneeling mountain range
outside Milan. Through glass, I am waiting
for the sound of a bird to unhinge the beginning
of spring, but my hands, my work, feel strange
without the rusty music of my machine. No words
for the Arctic liner moving down the Hudson, for the mange
of old snow moulting from the roofs. No poems. No birds.
The Sweet Life Café
If I fall into a grizzled stillness
sometimes, over the red-chequered tablecloth
outdoors of the Sweet Life Café, when the noise
of Sunday traffic in the Village is soft as a moth
working in storage, it is because of age
which I rarely admit to, or, honestly, even think of.
I have kept the same furies, though my domestic rage
is illogical, diabetic, with no lessening of love
though my hand trembles wildly, but not over this page.
My lust is in great health, but, if it happens
that all my towers shrivel to dribbling sand,
joy will still bend the cane-reeds with my pen’s
elation on the road to Vieuxfort with fever-grass
white in the sun, and, as for the sea breaking
in the gap at Praslin, they add up to the grace
I have known and which death will be taking
from my hand on this chequered tablecloth in this good place.