23 December 2010

Advent IV

You had a window on the bay, darling, and took walks even in the wind. You had poems tacked on your wall and your left elbow pointed to Jamestown. And I, up-shore and inland, spent the days driving from hazard to hazard with my camera strap looped around my wrist and a notepad in my pocket, my fingers poking through green unraveled gloves, listening to classical radio.

You took the 14 home; I drove in from the west. We lit candles in mason jars and mulled cider in silver pots. We ate our late dinner (squash and winter greens and pan-fried fish) listening for feet on the stairs.

Just before bed, our friends arrived, in coats and scarves, in thrift-store boots and hand-made hats, carrying wine and fruit. And we gave them slips of paper, with scripture verses written in pencil, and we sat in the dark and took turns reading out loud.

(Reading God With Us at Mawney Street, 2009)

19 December 2010

Advent III

Some days I felt an urgent responsibility to each change of light outside the sunporch windows. Who would remember any of it, any of this our time, and the wind thrashing the buckeye limbs outside? Somebody had to do it, somebody had to hang on to the days with teeth and fists, or the whole show had been in vain. That it was impossible never entered my reckoning.

-Annie Dillard, An American Childhood

12 December 2010

Advent II

We left the drawing room and drove to the coast at dusk. No one else came, just us two, leaving the yellow reading light, my sister’s blankets, my brothers’ company. Straight down her street, across another, into dusk, we drove silently.

Lights shone on the water at the park. Black-webbed volleyball nets hung against the sky. Red-lit smokestacks blinked, reflected and smeared like oil paint. We parked our car in the fire lane and walked across the lawn to stand above the sea.

We stood in the enormous silence of minor movements. The withdrawing tide secretly slipped over rounded stones that did not move. The sky fogged and spread down into the sea; the sea softened and crept up into the sky. Two ragged black rocks divided the expanse into top and bottom, but the horizon lay somewhere far beyond them, erased. The lighthouse spun snatches of gold out into the abyss.

I shivered and you wrapped your coat around my shoulders. Oh sweet sanity: salt and wind, bird cries and sailboats, damp air to settle all the dust in our minds. Minutes passed. We did not move.

When we walked back from the sea wall three people stood smoking by the car parked in front of ours. The men wore suits, the woman grey tights and black boots up to her knees. Our headlights lit her up. “—have you ever been down here?” I overheard one man ask the other two. I didn’t hear the response; my door was shut; we were driving away. The coast receded behind us and the crescent moon mounted, pivoting on a single star.

29 November 2010

Advent I

All the leaves are gone. Our secret house feels revealed, in plain view. The neighborhood has grown. There are swathes of wasteland between some houses, valleys of brush and crumbling leaves. Now we can see a dozen windows out of our own. We have to shut the shades at night. We must be visible, slipping out of the house for walks after dark. We leave our house and cross the street, past the music studio and drycleaner, up the hill. From the top we can see our neighbors’ Christmas lights outlining the place where we live. Then we turn away from the ridge and delve further, into unlit neighborhoods, down a narrow path between two boundary fences that opens into a field. We stand beneath the stars, wrapped in scarves. “I like December,” I say, forgetting that it’s not yet.

08 November 2010


An hour before midnight we stole through Rhode Island, south to north, beneath the first snow. Unknown and unannounced, neither coming nor going, we had no purpose here. We did not stop last night.

It could be any night last year. Shouldn’t we take this exit then, and go home, and sleep in our own bed in the room with blue walls? Shouldn’t we wake up to sun in our yellow kitchen, to tall ceilings and windows that nearly reach the floor, to our second-storey living? Put the teapot on in the morning darling and turn up the heat. And you will walk to First and Main and I will run down to the harbor. We will catch the snow on our neighbor’s lawn and will breathe this bright air together.

Yes, this is the way, but that is not where we are going.

We did not stop last night—not to say goodnight to my family, not to drink wine with your mother, not for coffee on the east side, not to look out over the water. How grey, even by headlights, the highway looks now. How narrow and fissured. How crumpled these guardrails are. Were they always so rusted? Spaces spread wide with familiarity shrink back to first impressions. I do not believe I ever lived here. The windshield glass keeps out the night. Snow falls and we sweep it away. All of this is slipping past. I watch the edges of the road and you stare straight ahead.

28 October 2010

Lyman Estate

Inside the hothouse I can count the years by looking at the bricks, webbed white with old paint or veins of mold. The glass is fogged. Vast pipes run along the floor, leaking steam into the air. Patient orchids bud and bloom in the white light of almost-rain. Muscat grapes hang from the roof. Green lemons and oranges bulge at the tips of citrus branches. I should at least have had a pencil to write all of this down.

Because the light always changes I should have had a camera or paints. It hangs, low and diffuse above the orange maples that crown the lane outside the hothouse, lighting the yellow leaves from behind. Men are raising a tent behind the mansion.

I walk the crushed stone path with words rising under my breath. If I was alone I would be singing. If I was alone I would linger longer under the beech tree that stands beside the brick wall. Its trunk is too thick to reach around, the branches spread over my path and nearly touch the ground, leaves still glossy. I pause slightly, finger the scarred bark self-consciously and fish in my bag for a pen.

Slowly I wander back. Words are gathering in me like the leaves that overflow from the hothouse gutters. The car smells like bread, just baked. I go home to my notebook.

14 October 2010

Thursdays this October

I could watch the light for hours: catching in the leaves, flickering up and down the maple trunks, scattering on the ground like the shards of some brightly-colored vase, falling in squares across my lap as I sit inside.

Today I left the house before breakfast, investigating the immediate geography. You can walk from woodland to woodland without touching a road in this area, someone told me. I tried but was put off by swamps and fences. I walked home in the bright air, along the road, against the wind.

It is the afternoon. I am seated at my desk. I am watching the light. I am trying to understand why I must write. Whenever I am still, it is the first thing that I want to do.

Strong clean wind is sweeping through the house, through the windows and doors that I opened after my walk. Now I can hear crows calling across the yard, squirrels rattling the power-lines, branches tossing, and the neighbor’s wind chimes ringing. The chimes are clearest when I stand by the bathroom window. The wind moves the white shower curtain, it lifts my hair, and it carries the notes of the chimes down the hill and underground to where I live.

I write to anchor myself here, where I am content and attuned to the light and the wind. This stillness is the threshold of creation. I will wander away from it, so I write directions for my return.

I write to secure what is free and ephemeral; to preserve the light moving across the yard, which will fade at the end of day; to remember the notes of my neighbor’s wind chimes long in the future when we have moved away.

I write to keep myself from moving, because I know that if I stay still long enough I can create something good with words. I write so that I can write better, because that is what I have always wanted to do.