I try to speak of my experience in this city
sometimes, as an historical truth. I understand
the situation that way to some extent as a newspaper reporter.
I spent too many years, comparing statistics
in books, and reading city records. Here we are
now, in this period of the city’s history —
and the people are not what we expect them to be.
The way they live here has changed us in a strange way —
does this place destroy the beauty and glory
of the people we knew in the city where we lived before?
There is nothing to object to, with a reasonable mind.
The people in that place we understood —
write to me my dearest friend, it is impossible
to have a regret there dearest lady.
My Aunt Grace walked into the kitchen,
put her coat on the back of a chair
and ate a doughnut. She told me
she knew where the cookie jar was,
and would follow me right into the pantry
for more chocolate-chip cookies. The children
took her upstairs to see another aunt
who was reading a book. They drove
us to school everyday in a little sleigh,
and sometimes on cold mornings
would return us to the kitchen
to stand next to the stove. All the
schoolchildren used to take their lunches,
and eat them next to her in the schoolyard.
My mind carried me halfway up the lighthouse,
for the sake of the view. There, I stopped
and waited, and watched you finish the course
alone — while I rested on a bench.
Aspiration is not anything, either in literature
or in lighthouses, if we don’t know how to solve
our problems, and conquer our pursuits.
Such mornings, such evenings, such walkings
out in the dusk. We forget the world
is in this out-of-door arena,
and our habits and necessities
are far from real. And then our house,
our tables, our chairs, everything we own
looks rather better, having been away.
I wanted to see the place,
because it is a place to see after all.
It is something to talk of.
Did you ever see the place, I wonder?
There were the old prints of the city.
The old look-out into the garden —
with its orange trees. I know more of (her)
everyday. I, who thought I knew something
of her, five years ago. I think
I know you too, so I can love you.
I always see you with the children
at church, but we never speak.
I wait for your letters eagerly, and news.
I am busy about the new edition,
and some things are written.
You always seem like you have
more to say, than you can say.
I am delighted just to see you.
In those days, the movies were silent
and subtitles had to be read out loud —
you didn’t want to miss a single word.
Immediately, one feels the moment of recognition,
when your mother is out shopping,
and you stare at the screen,
realizing the movie had been written about you.
I stared at the screen, like I stare at my books,
wondering why I had become so disillusioned.
The protagonist was a professor, who couldn’t
keep himself together in any of the normal ways,
but was able to survive his trip.
A line from the movie still flickers in my mind,
(not that I can remember it now.)
Little by little, I realized that something
was missing between us, and that I could so nothing
to save it. Who was she and what she was about —
only someone I could never speak to face to face.
We needed a doctor’s report to look at each other
in the eyes. And when this happened, I looked at her
with a sort of indifferent expectation,
knowing that a physician would make the final
decision about my destiny, and where I lived.
It had become a habit to react to her,
without a word spoken between us.
And as I was grew well, and summer approached,
my response, and the sound of her foot on the stairs,
seemed to make an experiment of her hopes and feelings.
She went away, and I knew another week
would pass before I saw her again.
She looked at me with her still eyes,
and I realized she was trying to keep them steady.
The sermon today ended quickly —
those old bottles won’t hold new wine.
I never seem to listen to the Epistle readings,
but think about them all week. Last week,
we cast out demons, and this week
we are quick and neat. Such an extraordinary
difference of literary gifts one Sunday,
matched with surprised insecurity the next.
We all know what that must mean —
I am shaken, even at this distance.