Sunday, February 16, 2014

Archery at the Seam

The lines on the sailboats in the boatyard keen in the wind, cats meowing mournfully at some imagined wrong. The tide is low, the water nearly flat.  In the not-too-distance a shrimp boat’s silhouette cuts the gray landscape with edges as sharp as a knife blade.  It is not exactly too cold for a long walk, but I am ill-prepared; the coat is warm enough, the shoes sturdy enough, but without gloves or a scarf, my hands, my face, my ears will be gnawed raw in minutes.

I walk toward the water, the movement unconscious as a long-rehearsed stage direction. I stop at the just-edge, the rim where foam and salt lick the sand, where it is neither wet or dry, where the waves sigh, give up, and move away in retreat.  

I am here because there are things – events and words and feelings conjured by both –  that, up to this moment, I have not taken the time to contemplate appropriately.  I have held them like a bow string, so long, so taut that my body trembles.   Here, at the seam of my world, the place where earth and sea are stitched together, I hope to be able to let them go.

“What does it mean?” I begin, speaking aloud without any self-consciousness.  “What does it mean?” I ask of God or anyone else who might, serendipitously or divinely, suddenly appear and have some thoughts on the matter.  “What does it mean?” and I throw into the winter wind all the facts that I hold, but can’t seem to put together into a reasonable hypothesis.

I pause and take a deep breath.  And another one.  And another one.  I hear the voice inside my head whisper, “There is a difference between the person who does not know how to love and the one who does, but chooses not to.”   

I gasp.   The whisper has released the bow string and the vibration fills me.

At my feet there is an oyster shell.  I pick it up, turn it over, am greeted by a tiny crab, no larger than a nickel. Nearly translucent, with just a hint of veiny blue showing up near his tiny claws, he clings to the edge of the shell with his swimming feet, staring and daring me.  I slide a fingernail between one of the little claws to see if he will grasp.  It is what we do with newborn humans, offer them a finger and watch them circle it with their own. 
I want this shell.  I want to take it with me as a memorial, a reminder of the moment when the fingers of my weary heart loosed the bowstring and let it go, the moment when, standing here –  at the place where nothing is unraveled, where everything is whole – everything I need to know became clear. 
But, of course, I can’t take it.  Someone has a prior claim.  Not necessarily better, just prior.  And in such matters respect must be paid to the one who got there first.  “I will not take your shell,” I tell the crab as I place it carefully back on the spot from which I’d drawn it.  I do not deem it necessary to point out that my greater power would have made it incredibly easy to do so.

My ears are beginning to burn.  The movement of my cheeks feels disconnected from the rest of my face.  It is time to go.  I pick up half a sand dollar, its broken edge as even as the perforation on a postage stamp.  It, too, is from this place.  It, too, is from this moment.   And no one else has a prior  claim.  This one can be mine.

Copyright 2014

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Fields of Gold

Leaving Darien, up and over the bridge that minds the shrimp boats, I ease my foot off the accelerator and let gravity pull me down toward sea level. The marsh spreads out on either side, at once embracing the river and wooing the ocean. What had been, not many weeks earlier, a rolling lawn, an endless swath of greenest green, has gone gold. Wispy grain heads waving in the winter wind, it is now a field unto harvest.

I note to myself that, despite heartstrings that need the tuning fork of ocean song to set their pitch, I am a country girl and it is images of sowing and reaping that come most easily to mind. I also remind myself that it is said that the ability to use and recognize metaphor is what makes us uniquely human. I am glad to be human.

On Monday I notice that the fields around home are filling up with bales of hay, huge barrels pushed over on their sides. The whole world has gone gold. I notice and then I forget. On Thursday the telephone call comes. And the whole world goes the color of nothing. The light goes out, the prism breaks.

My friend has died. Died. I feel an explosion inside my chest. A real one. There is heat and pressure spreading from the place where my heart is cradled, where my friend has been cradled for 19 years. Words are coming out of my mouth. I hear them, but I don’t know who is saying them.

They, his family, want me to speak of him. They want me to stand up – on my own two feet, no doubt – and remember him. I say yes, even though I have no idea that I actually can. Later, when I am alone, I sit staring at the computer screen, the cursor flashing rhythmically, inviting me to begin. Where?

I glance around the room and my eyes fall on my faded and tattered copy of The Little Prince. Jim didn’t know The Little Prince when I met him, but it didn’t take long for me to share. And over the years most of our conversations included some reference to or quotation from that story. I put my thumbs to the page edges and the book falls open to the conversation between the fox and the little prince.

As I read the words I can almost quote, words I’ve been reading since I was 16 and discovered that truth isn’t necessarily factual, my breath begins to slow. My fingers begin to move over the keys. I can do this.

It is Sunday. I am standing up, on my own two feet. I open the book and I read.

“[I]f you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world …[I]f you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat …”

It is Tuesday. It is Wednesday. The world is white. Snow, infrequent and puzzling, makes an appearance and we are gawking and fumbling and behaving in unseemly ways as though she were a movie star showing up unexpectedly at a family reunion or tailgate party. I am embarrassed a little until I am reminded that in the white are all the other colors. Somewhere in there is gold. The gold of wheat fields.

It will be a while – not Thursday or Friday or even next week – but the color will return. Gold will reappear. The winter sunrise, the spring daffodils, the summer corn, the autumn leaves will bring me back the thought of my friend. And, having been tamed, I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat.

Copyright 2014