Sunday, January 17, 2016


In a letter a friend writes "from Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, where the little-man made lake behind the house is unfrozen and has ducks. The Pacific Coast: always seems a massive, pleasant fraud. But the little drops of rain on bare branches are translucent buds, the sky is overcast and there is drizzle. So."

Meanwhile, I write from the island of Harmony, in Maine, where hills of lumpy plowed snow press against the scaly trunks of firs and white pines, where moody goldfinches chase each other away from the dwindling bird feeder.

Yesterday I went snowshoeing, and the dog and the cat both came along--the long-legged dog bounding gaily up the path, the cat grimly jumping from one snowshoe print to the next and occasionally disappearing into a drift. All of his hair stuck out like a bottlebrush, yet he insisted on coming along with us and howled if we got too far ahead of him.

Or, as I wrote in a recent poem,
Somewhere, island horses break trail,
high on AC/DC and street racing.
I suppose I will clean house today. I think I will eat leftover broccoli and rice for breakfast. I will read a few more stories from Modern Japanese Literature, a book I would enjoy more if it weren't as big as a house. It's a book made for library carrels, and I have always hated library carrels.

In one of those stories, "The Dancing Girl," Mori Ogai, a Japanese writer who lived in Germany in the 1880s, describes a young man who is shedding, for the first time, both his isolated homeland and his obedient self:
I felt like the leaves of the silk-tree which shrink and shy away when they are touched. I felt as unsure of myself as a young girl. Ever since my youth I had followed the advice of my elders and kept to the path of learning and obedience. If I had succeeded, it was not through being courageous. I might have seemed capable of arduous study, but I had deceived not only myself but others too. I had simply followed a path that I was made to follow. The fact that external matters did not disturb me was not because I had the courage to reject them or ignore them, but rather because I was afraid and tied myself hand and foot. Before I left home I was convinced I was a man of talent. I believed deeply in my own powers of endurance. Yes, but even that was short-lived. I felt quite the hero until the ship left Yokohama, but then I found myself weeping uncontrollably. I thought it strange at the time, but it was my true nature showing through.
In a letter a friend tells me, "I have been on a desert island of late." I imagine that her island is not Vancouver or Harmony or even a ship leaving Yokohama but more like the Scottish island in Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, where David has to survive on limpets that sometimes make him sick and sometimes don't. Eventually he discovers, to his extreme embarrassment, that the island is actually not an island at all. He could easily have escaped on his own, if he'd known anything about tides and sand spits.

1 comment:

Richard said...

No word is an island, whether songbook or songbird.