The Spirits of the Air

If Blake is to be believed, the spirts of the air “live in the smells of fruit.”  I kid you not.  And even better, this all happens in autumn.  Investigating this fruit-related issue, I have discovered that he is indeed correct.  At least in Berkeley, California, where the nectarine and the peach are the first thing you see when you walk into a produce market.  Even in Safeway.  Also, the tomato.

I have been disconnected from the internet for all of August, which is a good thing, because the break allowed me to gather myself together.  Actually, first I fell apart under the onslaught of teenagers (the relevant statistics there are 2 and 16.  Two of them.  And they are 16.)  They don’t live in Autumn, as I do.  They’re all about heedless summer.  That’s good, unless you’re the mother.  And then you have to increase the meds and do a lot of yoga.  Which is precisely what I have been doing all of August, to be absolutely frank.

And I would like to say that those of you who so nobly embarked on the BlogLily Summer Reading Program are heroes in my eyes, because your summers were, well, obviously somewhat heedful.  And those of you whose packets have been delayed by adolescent angst?  Would you email me please and I will send you the BlogLily Fruit Smelling Fall Reading Packet? (Also, I would just like to get some e-mails about something book-related.)  There is no  reason in the world that you should be denied this pleasure.  Fall is, after all, the time of the book report, is it not?

xo

A Certain Slant of Light

At the end of my hall at work is a picture window and, beyond the window, a leafy tree (still leafy, even though it’s November).  Larkin Street is just below this window.  If you walk up Larkin, you’ll find porn theaters, guys selling watches and drugs, and good Vietnamese food.  The superior court is just across Larkin from the picture window and most days you see lawyers in wrinkled suits going in and out.  People hang around outside the court arguing with each other about child custody, child support, traffic tickets and their obligation to perform jury duty.  It’s a sad street most days, desperate and tawdry.  The light today doesn’t make it look anything other than what it is.

When I looked down the hall today, it struck me that the light is lower in the sky than it was just a week ago — it’s somehow become late in the year, and even this early in the afternoon (it’s 1:00 here), things seem to be ending .   

And that is when I found myself thinking about Emily Dickinson, a woman who knew all about that kind of light. 

 There’s a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.

Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings, are.

None may teach it anything,
‘T is the seal, despair,
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air.

When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, ‘t is like the distance
On the look of death.

Scenes From A Walk

It is difficult to remember sometimes how thoroughly children inhabit a world that is not our own. The other day, walking with my youngest son, this was more obvious to me than it usually is.

He brings a weapon on our walks, and clears the woods of nests of villains. The terrain is rugged, and there are a lot of places for the enemy to take refuge. You have to be alert for them at all times. They’re a tricky bunch, professional soldiers who want to take over the lovely land we’ve lived on for generations and generations.

Here, he’s looking down at the tower where his family stays, safe from their enemies. He’s from a long line of leaders, and he’s made his fortune inventing things “people can really use.”

At the top of the hill, he looks across the land and sees that his people are safe.

It is a good day when the land is at peace.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, if that is a holiday you’re celebrating tomorrow, and whether or not you are, at some point in the next few days, go out for a walk and try to remember how the world looked to you when you were seven, when anything was possible.

This Morning the Writing Cafe is Serving…

Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton’s wonderful autumnal poem, Her Kind. The recommended menu while reading this poem? Pumpkin bread and hot apple cider. (Tea is an acceptable substitute for the apple cider.)

If you’d like to assume the persona of the writer, then you’ll have to put on a slash of lipstick. Your menu would then be a cigarette and a glass of scotch. Don’t be Sexton for too long, though. It was a lot of work being her and it did not end well. But while she was able, she managed to transform the nightmare of mental illness into art. And that is something to be celebrated this autumn morning.

If you’d like to hear Sexton read this poem, you can do that at the Academy of American Poets website. And if you’d like to know more about Sexton, Diane Middlebrook’s excellent biography is a good place to start. The biography made a little bit of a splash when it first came out because it’s based in part on tapes Sexton’s analyst made of their sessions. It’s a compulsively readable book. And Her Kind is a wonderful, accessible poem made to be read out loud.

Her Kind, Anne Sexton

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.

(Without question, because of its chill factor and wildness, this poem is on my list of 100 favorite poems. I’m now up to 5 of 100. Maybe getting up to 25 or so would be a good winter project.)