October 23, 2011
A blight has taken the maples; their leaves are shriveling before they take on exuberance. I find this unsettling. Last week, I walked the beach one gray morning and there were long strings of fish eggs, gelatinous red masses that suggest a salamander's hand. Josie crouched every ten feet or so with her ball between her paws and nudged it down for me to kick. Sometimes she pulls a Charlie Brown and takes it away from me before I get to kick it. Other times I hit it haphazardly, still others square on and it glides across the broken mussel shells. We play this little game while making our way north toward Dane's Beach. I reasoned then, how the clouds were padded so thick and the water lapping at the shore was not unlike a womb. But then again, I see wombs everywhere these days. So I walked the beach northward in my water womb world thinking of the blight in the maple trees and Annie Dillard's essay on “Seeing”, feeling like I should write something similar. I was inspired, but jealous. Dillard's close observations of the uninterrupted natural world are breathtaking:
At last I stared upstream where only the deepest violet remained of the cloud, a cloud so high its underbelly still glowed feeble color reflected from a hidden sky lighted in turn by a sun halfway to China. And out of that violet, a sudden enormous black body arced over the water. I saw only a cylindrical sleekness. Head and tail, if there was a head and tail, were both submerged in cloud. I saw only one ebony fling, a headlong dive to darkness; then the waters closed, and the lights went out.
What I see sets me swaying. Size and distance and the sudden swelling of meanings confuse me, bowl me over. I straddle the sycamore log bridge over Tinker Creek in the summer. i look at the lighted creek bottom: snail tracks tunnel the mud in quavering curves. A crayfish jerks, but by the time I absorb what has happened, he's gone in a billowing smokescreen of silt. I look at the water: minnows and shiners. If I'm thinking minnows, a carp will fill my brain till I scream.
I notice the difference between adult gulls and their yearlings, how the yearlings follow their white breasted mothers crying and calling out continuously until she gets it in her head to take off over the waves. The babe follows. She tricks him, boomerangs back. (Will the independent artist spirit in me want to flee her crying children?) He figures it out, turns around and lands beside her crying and crying. Sometimes she relents and feeds him with a scrap of oyster or clam. He still cries. He is bigger than her, speckled, dirty-looking, incessantly demaning. She is svelte white with a touch of gray and a strong yellow beak. In the sand, there are rivulets, water trickling in arabesque designs. I think of taking a picture of a section, undisturbed, without footprints nearby, but then I walk along and forget about it. I walk and there is always something that interrupts my walking, a bottle, someone's lost pile of dogshit, the spray paint defacing the stone wall advertising the rights of Occupy Boston. I look northward to the Misery Islands with the power plant at my back; when I have to turn around, I regret it, because my view is spoiled by stacks and tanks and power lines. I'm jealous of Annie Dillard's uninterrupted nature, her startling moments as a witness to nature's grace.
Such glimpses are never guaranteed, never expected. They are gifts and the surprise factor adds to the element of grace, like the day I walked the paths through Phillips aside the reservoir and saw the specter of a deer's tail. (It must have been a buck; they're more clandestine). Josie went to investigate and the deer evaporated in mid air. There was another chance meeting, with a hawk, also in Phillips. I saw the full breast of him, speckled, his regal sloping shoulders and prominent beak, the glance of his eye. He spied his prey, spied me, his prey again. He ascended upward like a god, above the canopy. Then there was the owl in Ravenswood, walking with Maureen and Ralphie. My father had just died. We saw a flurry of gray; I can still see him looking down upon us, his stern brow. I thought my father's spirit occupied the bird; something had to drive him there; I wasn't one to see owls.
These brushes with nature's wild grace, totem spirits, are too few for me. I have a hunger for more, but there is always time and logistics and money that keeps me bound to home and routine.
But I have my own nature's grace happening inside me, lest I not forget. I try to commune with these little beings, imagine myself inside myself. Here is a poem about that:
Water rains down
from the roof of my mouth
and pools at the ligaments
of my tongue.
This morning my uterus
coughed up a dustball,
the discarded claws and dander
of the rabbits burrowing silently
in the soil of my womb.
I place myself inside myself
and witness the slow crawl of atoms
of silence and sinew and sweet-meat.
I spy, float between you,
tethered by thought strings.
See there, a twitch, a solitary stimuli,
the trajectory of a comet aside
vacant ovary moons and a whirling
saturnine bowel with probing eye.
I open my eyes
and the solar system shrinks.
There is a dark cave to my stomach;
out belches dust, the murmurs
of the supine and sleeping hares.
They feed. They dance.
I am chained to this incubator,
to these belching caves.
I pray for the blessing of the fleet.
People tell you all sort of things.
Secrets. Lies. They hoard
the glistening pennies in the well.
They say nothing.
I wait for those diaphanous moments,
those gems when I see
my child hand in God's hand,
my child's hand in my hand.
There is a footpath
off the precipice.
It too is diaphanous.
It spans the length of the chasm.
I walk there, blind.
I can only reach them through imagination and poetry. Yes, there is the ultrasound machine and yes I revel at their images, but science is the intercessor. The babies are on the screen are away from me. My brain can't comprehend how the pixels describe their universe inside me.
My sister says that when you feel them move, you know. That bit of quickening, that kick of baby limb, tells all. Until then, I will have to reach them in other ways.