Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Prelude

The sky is low and glowering, a weak mist of rainy snow. Inside, the lamps cast an evening glow, though it is seven-thirty in the morning. A clock ticks. My fingers tap at keys. Otherwise, everything is silent. "We shall descend the stairs / The back way, making no noise," writes Donald Justice. "We shall perform the chores / To which we have grown accustomed." But there is no back way down my stairs.

I have been working steadily on a difficult editorial project. The manuscript overflows with theoretical locutions, while my writing hand longs for simple subjects and predicates. I walked. I sang. I slept. A plain, uncluttered fiction. The life that no one leads.

Meanwhile, a small wind knocks at the back door. "What solitude of attics waits, / Bleak, at the top of the still hidden stair?" But the stair is not hidden in my house. It is merely steep, and narrow.

Emily Dickinson's white dress is tiny, tiny. In the days when I used to sleep in the room next to hers, when my husband's family lived in her manse, I used to wake in the dim mornings and wander into her bedroom and say to myself, "I will never be a poet. I am too large for Emily's tiny dress." It was a kind of mourning, a familiar mourning. Delete a poet from that sentence. Insert beautiful or loved. Now we can all mourn.

Every day, in the yard that once was Dickinson's, grey squirrels, conniving as cats, scuttled across the roof, sprang through the oak trees, hung upside down from the fascia and pressed their sharp skulls against the porch screens.

But in my yard we have no grey squirrels, only their tiny red cousins. They speed to the heights of the fir trees and toss empty cones at the dog in the drifts below. Every day, the dog is puzzled. For her, every day is new. She will never be __________. She is too ___________ for Emily's tiny dress.

Now my house has lost its silence. A refrigerator hums. Car tires splash on the salted road. My writing hand longs for simple subjects and predicates.

I walked. I sang. I slept. A plain, uncluttered fiction. The life that no one leads.
Nevertheless you are there, hidden,
And again you wake me,
Scentless, noiseless,
Someone or something,
Something or someone faithless,
And that will not return. 

9 comments:

Carlene said...

I don't know how, but this piece is beautiful.

Thank you.

wfkammann said...

Feigned ennui, the life that only a poet lives.

Dawn Potter said...

Ennui? Feigned? Sorry it came across that way.

wfkammann said...

"The manuscript overflows with theoretical locutions, while my writing hand longs for simple subjects and predicates. I walked. I sang. I slept. A plain, uncluttered fiction. The life that no one leads." If you yearn for the life that no one leads, is that not a boredom with the life this is lead? I say feigned because it is not clear that you are bored with life since the poem seems to be something lived.

Dawn Potter said...

One can wish for something different and unreachable for reasons other than boredom.

wfkammann said...

But to "yearn" for the life that no one leads would tell me you are no longer satisfied with the ordinary life. This dissatisfaction with the mundane is ennui.

Dawn Potter said...

If ennui is what you see in this, then I suppose I must presume it is there. It's not a reaction I would like to watch myself make to anything of substance, however, so I am disturbed to see that this is what you are perceiving. I wrote the entry nearly two weeks ago, in reaction to loneliness, writing frustration, terrible weather, and personal second-guessing. I was not dissatisfied with the ordinary. I was dissatisfied with my ability to productively navigate through these particular waters. Also I was experimenting with allowing myself to write on an unplanned subject. The subsequent post mentions that.

wfkammann said...

"I wrote the entry nearly two weeks ago, in reaction to loneliness, writing frustration, terrible weather, and personal second-guessing. I was not dissatisfied with the ordinary. I was dissatisfied with my ability to productively navigate through these particular waters. "
Are "these particular waters" ordinary? I thought the unsatisfactoriness was feigned for the reason you now write: "It's not a reaction I would like to watch myself make to anything of substance, however, so I am disturbed to see that this is what you are perceiving." So, the "navigation through these particular waters" if it evoked the unsatisfactoriness of ennui would suddenly become a thing of "substance" and you would be disturbed if someone perceived it.

What you wrote though is "The manuscript overflows with theoretical locutions, while my writing hand longs for simple subjects and predicates. I walked. I sang. I slept. A plain, uncluttered fiction. The life that no one leads."

There is the famous Zen Koan "Before enlightenment chop wood; carry water; after enlightenment chop wood; carry water.

This is the life that no one leads. It involves doing just as you do and did but with a perspective free of longing or dissatisfaction (ennui).

Feigned because you touch on it but do not stop to make the fiction real.

Dawn Potter said...

Okay.