Thursday, June 24, 2010

inexpressible privacy

My parents left yesterday morning after a long and pleasant visit.   All week I had wanted to show them . . . the sights.  What now I love most about where I live.  It used to be, when first I came to live here, that my parents' visits were excuses to range from city to shore, miles and miles of forest and river's edge rushing by on our way to museums and parks and formal gardens.  This house, this town, only a place to sleep and wash.  But my bliss has contracted these days.  The sights I wanted them to see were all within a smaller circle now.  Or I thought they were.  I kept trying to take them to see . . . something.  But nothing seemed to be here.

In the car . . .  and maybe that was the first mistake.  In the car, you must have a destination firmly in mind: you must make up your mind before setting out because you arrive so quickly.  In the car, the trees shrink, the hills flatten, the breathing world goes silent and solid as you blur past. 

We drove down by the river.  The weather was too cold.  The sky leaden.  If I had been alone it may have felt moody, atmospheric.  But with my parents at my shoulder I couldn't help but feel that the town was purposely holding back, recalcitrant, sullenly refusing to perform. 

There's a reason no one comes here as a tourist.  There's a reason a proportion of eager home-buyers put up For Sale signs again within three years.  This town has felt for years as if it's on the verge of becoming something.  When newcomers realize that this town is becoming ... just more itself, some people move away in disgust, eager for better shopping and reliable amenities.

You have to stay for seven years before you begin to see what's really here.  This morning, my parents gone, the sun came out dancing in a clear sky, like a child no longer under pressure in front of company. 

There was a rummage sale outside the front door of our town's indoor swimming pool (a basalt rock foundation, plexiglas like a giant's garden-shed greenhouse).  They're raising money for a new slide.  I browsed through the used books while waiting for YoungSon to finish his swimming lesson.

Nothing worth looking at - brightly painted porcelain candle holders, ugly chairs.  A broken dollhouse handbuilt by someone's Uncle Voyse (per the brass tag built into the roof) - meticulously wired for electricity.  And piled up on long tables: fuzzy-headed dolls, lampshades, shabby piles of clothing, paperback books and unpopular movies on VHS. 

I bought two books: Dear Mad'm, a bio written in the 1950's by a witty-voiced and feisty 80-year-old woman who goes off to live alone for a year in a cabin  in the Northern California woods, and The Portable Thoreau.  Walden (Complete).  Essays~Poems~Letters.  A dollar and fifty cents for both.  Better than a bargain.

And then I wished for my camera, admiring the sunlight tossed off a jumble of mismatched glassware.  The bright stripes of a fat man's shirt.  The round-eyed baby balanced on a skinny girl's hip.  Here at last were the sights I'd been wanting to show.

And on the way home, a handkerchief backyard full of red poppies.  The willow growing into the road.

Says Thoreau this morning, while we're sitting together in the sun:
When I detect a beauty in any of the recesses of nature, I am reminded, by the serene and retired spirit in which it requires to be contemplated, of the inexpressible privacy of a life - how silent and unabmitious it is . . .

Monday, June 7, 2010

. . . un-worded world | web of words . . .

Hello, un-worded world.  

Hello, web of words.

The very first, very earliest memory I have is of my own mouth saying, Why can't he be my birthday present? asking it of my mother about my new brother and hearing her words, No, no . . . he's a Christmas present for your Daddy. 

It was a joke - I believe even my young self caught the comic accent.
I remember it as a joking.  A play
I remember, or remember remembering, the displacement of sense and self that was joking.

I remember that sense of myself as small and up against a joke I didn't quite get, a joke that got me instead.  I was a small body swinging out over the threshold watching my mother working her way over the winter walk.  Her arms - her whole body cupped around her bundle. 

I remember the coldness of the light metal frame of the storm door against my fingertips.  A moment.  A short opposite-of-out-of-body experience.  A moment of being conscious of myself playing  and also played by surfaces and cold  and words.

It was my birthday.

I remember remembering it was gracious of me - but I was two, I wouldn't have thought gracious.  I would have thought sharing.  It was sharing of me to make room for this red bundle - he had a very red face and very dark hair and he was in a big red stocking instead of a blanket - it was sharing of me and good for I knew I was good - I was a good girl, I liked everybody - to make a place for him to fit inside my birthday. 

He could be my present. 

There weren't any other jobs open.

No, no, my mother's words.

Why not?  I remember remembering shrugging.  So much for that.  And losing interest. 

The red bundle slept through it all, was put into a small bed behind a closed door.  My birthday started up again with singing.  I think there was a cake. 

What are words?  Can you eat words? Can you put candles in words and blow them out?

My mother used to say this never happened.

She didn't remember ever saying, she doesn't think she would have ever . . . of all the hundreds of things she had said to me and I to her before my brother was born and the thousands and millions after, why would I, why should she remember this - a small joke, a play between us, as she stepped over slick spots on the walk with her unweighty, hard-won bundle.

But I still believed it happened.

I used to wonder over it without telling her. Why couldn't she have said, He's a present for both of you.

That would have been sharing.

Why couldn't she have said yes instead of no. 

Would it have made a difference. 

Did any difference need to be made.

Do words make a difference.

I used to get in trouble because I over-controlled our play, my brother's and mine. 

Let's play that I am the mother and you are the store man.  And let's play that you say, "We have strawberries for sale."  Now say it. . . . Not like that.  Louder.   And now let's play that I have money in my bag. And I say . . .  

They were afraid he wouldn't learn to talk for himself. 

He did, though. 

When I was expecting my first baby (the one who now is grown and graduating this week) my brother came over and painted the plastered walls of the tiny nursery room with great leaping rainforests of leaves and giant flowers like something out of a Rousseau  . . .

. . . and drove me around in my first-ever car with the windows rolled down and the radio on when I was too sick to sit upright and went shopping with me for small necessities and then sat at the blue formica kitchen table and talked until late.

We don't talk much anymore, my brother and I.

And how is it I am now quoting performance poet Rives? whom I won't link to, though he is genius, but as he uses words that would offend my children and others, I'll leave you his name only which is a word that will google up his poem "Op-Talk"  - the balance of which is "none of your business.  It was a Valentine gift for my sister last February"  with its genius and words that would exceed a PG rating  - and you are warned aforethought.

But as I say, voicelessly, speaking to you with my fingers on the keypad, tapping out we don't talk much anymore , in the background suddenly I'm hearing the punchy chanted echo of  -

. . .  She and I don't talk much anymore
and I'm not sure why maybe
her husband got drunk one night and accidentally
ate part of our relationship. But I'm lucky,
I guess. I still have the number of the very first person
I ever adored so when I call her up and try to make her laugh
so hard that she forgets about the mortgage and the wrinkles and the weight gain
and the other silly symptoms of us not being children any more,
when I tell her simple sentimental things like
Hey. Listen. Butthead. Opi lopove yopou. Y'know?
And I know - even if my nephew's cartoon is kicking like mad
in the background  - that this woman is going to speak my language.

It is that string of words playing in the background of what I'm writing, what I'm saying to you.  Who are far from me in body, but close by way of words.

But I did not set out to tell this story when I wrote "web of words." 

A word has within it its own paths - that's what I would say if I were still trying to sound wise.  Instead  I'll say, I'll tap out, that after that initial knot of words there seemed only false starts and erasing backtracks until I found my way to the story of first memories and brothers who don't talk much anymore.

But that was just a way to get myself here into the bodiless world of tapped-out markings on an imaginary page.  An electronic page whose words (I hope) will whisper in your mind's ear after I've already turned back to the world of weather and wind and what's for dinner.

The story I set out to tell is that yesterday, Sunday,  I sat in class and watched a video first fussed over, gushed over by our teacher, a nice slightly nervous woman who flutteringly erases her words, gesture by gesture, apologizing.  She "didn't want to subtract from the topic" with what she might say so she was giving us the video instead. 

She somehow set the player to closed-caption - apologized again, fiddled, flummoxed, left it that way - so that we had a young sign language interpreter pulling faces and wheeling his arms around his head at-large, front and center, while the choreography of image and authority, the measured mouths shaping the words we heard,  played out in a small box over the young signer's shoulder.

I was incredibly moved.  Or credibly moved.

When Elder Maxwell (who died not long ago) spoke of the vastness of God's creations, the young interpreter's upcast eyes and sweeping arms shaped awe at that vastness.   When the voice  - a voice now beyond the grave - spoke of the Lord of the Universe who notices the fall of the sparrow, the quick and agile hand of the interpreter plucked from the vastness a single failing flutter of feathers and cherished it.  When the words spoken were babe at Bethlehem and swaddling clothes, the young arms cradled someone almost there, bent a tender eye that turned up in anguish while the fingers bent achingly when the words became atoning blood and Christ's suffering.  Fingers sparkled to the accompaniment of witnessing stars.

I have heard these words before.  I have seen the well-produced video and its images of Jerusalem and sunrise and leaves in the wind - and the opening of the dome of an astronomical observatory.  What overwhelmed me was that the beauty of the sign language seemed to say something about the vastness of creation and atonement that I had been deaf to, blind to, walled from before.

It was like Indian dance - my recurrent obsession, the grammar of movement - the movement of eye and hand - fingers flicking, the angles of shoulder and wrist - everything moving, the whole trunk of the body in motion - lips and eyebrows and handshapes wavering like a field of grass beneath the wind.  But meaningly.  Movement not for itself but to speak of things beyond words.

There are some who believe that the first language was gestural rather than verbal. Or gestural/verbal perhaps.  That the word is more than a series of emitted sounds, that the word was in the beginning incarnated in movement and space as well. 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . what does that really mean?  And if we could dance it, would we better know? or better say? what we somehow do know deeper than words?
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