I keep seeing links to a new piece at The Paris Review. And so finally, I go over and read it. Come to this line, and stop:
It feels good to barely remember.
And like some kind of deep-sea cetacean language of call and response, I feel the stirring of something I have been trying and mostly failing these days to articulate. I try not to hold my breath. I read on.
As I empty the bags and touch the moss, and the leaves, and the twigs, and the berries, and a robin-blue eggshell, I consider how much we depend on useless, arbitrary tasks to prove ourselves. I consider how much we depend on these tasks so we can say, at the very end, we succeeded.
Here is the thing. I have been having some trouble with Phase 2, as they are calling it here in Italy. I feel already, and a little inconsolably, like we had our chance, and we blew it. Like we are blowing it. Right now. We. Are. In. The. Process. Of. Blowing. It.
Tomorrow, on day fifty-nine, I will ask my sons to “find me an acre of land / Between the salt water and the sea-strand, / Plough it with a lamb’s horn, / Sow it all over with one peppercorn, / Reap it with a sickle of leather, / And gather it up with a rope made of heather.” I will tell them if they perform each one of these tasks perfectly, they will be rewarded with more tasks. And if they perform each of those tasks perfectly, they will be rewarded with more. Until, at last, they will not be able to tell the difference between their hands and another boy’s hands.
I feel like I am watching us blow it, in real time, in slow motion time, in now. We’re stepping out of our doors into our sun-warmed and waiting streets. We’re so busy trying to get the smiles to show through the masks. (And of course I get it. Because they’re there, the smiles.) We’re so busy being thrilled about breathing a little more than before. And this is how we’re blowing it. This is how it feels when it feels like already it’s too late. Already it feels gone.
“Fuck the bread,” says my mother. “The bread is over.”
The thing is, that mother is in America. Right now in America is several light years away from (and I suspect, several light years behind) where I am standing, here on Via di Santo Spirito in Florence, Italy. (Just like seven weeks ago in America was several light years behind seven weeks ago here...)
Here on Via di Santo Spirito in Florence, Italy, I can see the world coming together again, like those videos that flow backwards, so the shattered pieces of many-colored glass rise joyfully up from the floor and reunite into the lovely vase, righted and whole. Of course there will be some cracks in the vase. Some chinks where pieces are missing. In a little while we’ll look at the chinks and we’ll not even notice that it’s not the chinks that matter. It’s the vase.
“Fuck the bread,” says my mother again. “The bread is over.”
Here, I can see just a little further than that mother. And you guys. To me it seems the bread is back. To me it seems like the same bread.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[sabato 9 maggio 2020 ore 19:17:00] [¶]
I could tell you why I love this poem—how and in what places of its body—again and again in each reading like a new reading.
I could tell myself too.
If I thought about it that way.
But I know like an empty room knows—a knowing that is more of an unknowing than a knowing—that some things would be lost, in the getting to that telling. Maybe even some things of mine.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[mercoledì 06 maggio 2020 ore 14:05:11] [¶]
Someone I have not been in touch with for years, but am in touch with these days—because of everything that has been happening—asks me this morning in a Facebook message (as a way, I guess, of getting to know me better), “What hobbies take up your time?”
I remember being a person who asked, or anyway lived among people who asked, this kind of question. “What are your hobbies?” “What do you do to pass the time?”
I remember, but it’s been a while. And so the question, at first, leaves me flummoxed. Confused. Like with a bad phone line, when the sentences come down to you gapped and garbled. There is that sense of a split-second’s delay in comprehension, in the closing of the circuit of semantic meaning, as you repair and reconstruct what you have just heard.
What hobbies take up my time?
I still encounter, every once in a while, a version of this idea. The version in which people (though again, it’s usually other people, and not me) speak of “keeping busy.” But it has been a while since I have been confronted with the idea of doing things to “pass the time” or to “take up my time.”
And so the instinctive answer, in that split-second’s delay, is to ask back, in real, honest confusion, why I would want to “take up” my time? Why would I want to do that?
It’s all I have.
Or, as I told Elvira, what seems ormai like worlds ago, it’s the only thing that matters.
I’m trying to think what else this question sounds like. And it only takes a minute. Because of course. It’s like if someone asked you, “What do you do to spend your money?”
I remember the way my mother read books. (The way many people read books.) I think of what Sontag said in a letter to Borges:
Some people think of reading only as a kind of escape: an escape from the “real” everyday world to an imaginary world, the world of books. Books are much more. They are a way of being fully human.
I think of what some admittedly suspicious and problematic “wellness” guru (cough) once said about self-care, and about the idea anyway, of trying to make yourself a life you do not want to regularly escape from.
(Admittedly suspicious and problematic to me anyway, but that would need to be a whole other blog post...)
For the moment I decide to leave my friend’s question unanswered. In the evening I pick up a book of poetry, and I find in the end of a poem by Deryn Rees-Jones, something that helps. Something I want almost to copy and paste into Facebook Messenger:
Dear friend, sometimes I lose myself. The mind's embodiedness the wounded day’s. I wait for bridging light, the early hours. Life happens. So we step across the hours, notice our visitations. Lost threads – days like cuts, electric wires, barbed wire and glass – cliché we learn, routine in daily repetitions. End and start, delay – our offices. A child’s bleak nightmares speak the early hours. I might think of a whole day, haunted, looking back, as something that I walk towards. Well, let us all walk into that morning where a room might hold one remnant of the phoenix’s flight, its rage.
Elsewhere, another piece of another poem, this time by Hugo Williams, and this time less obliquely, about time:
I’ll never forget
the eager doing of nothing, rolling it into balls
and placing them on shelves
the way we used to at the office.
I don’t go there any more, for I have gained
a poor understanding of time.
I turn it inside out
in case there is happiness in it.
And elsewhere still, a poem-of-the-day from the Poetry Foundation, stuck still in my Inbox, from April 26th. This time by Forrest Gander, and this time all of it, and this time (it seems anyway, to me) about everything:
What It Sounds Like
As grains sort inside a schist
An ancient woodland indicator called dark dog’s mercury
River like liquid shale
And white-tipped black lizard-turds on the blue wall
For a loss that every other loss fits inside
Picking a mole until it bleeds
As the day heaves forward on faked determinations
If it’s not all juxtaposition, she asked, what is the binding agent?
Creepy always to want to pin words on “the emotional experience”
Azure hoplia cockchafer, the caddisworm, the bee-louse, blister beetle, assassin bug
The recriminations swarm around sunset
When it was otherwise quiet all the way around
You who were given a life, what did you make of it?
Of course. I don’t put any of all of this, in my response. Even if it could be an answer. It’s not that kind of question.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[martedì 05 dicembre 2020 ore 10:05:11] [¶]
Listen, I have not gotten in touch with you in a long time because the last few times that I did I got the impression that it was unwelcome. (I tend to have this effect on people, I am beginning to suspect.) But I heard that B. died. And if you come here, ever, but even if you don’t, because really it has nothing to do with whether you come here... It has nothing to do with whether you know that I know and that I am sorry, that she’s gone. It’s just that I do and I am, and I needed somewhere to say it. Here was as good a place as any.
I remember her. And I am sorry she’s gone.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[sabato 02 maggio 2020 ore 10:04:18] [¶]