19 August 2013

if I could drink this light {a poem}

Reflected in the pond were electrical wires
I'd rather pretend were not there,
focusing all my attention instead on
the late afternoon summer light
that suffuses the world (and me) with nostalgia,
even as I'm firmly planted in the present.

If I could drink the light,
I would choose a tall glass of this.
Golden and sweet,
an elixir of the gods—
for surely, if anyone has the power to
change light into liquid,
it would be them.

Zeus and Hera,
Aphrodite and Demeter,
and all the rest of them up on Olympus,
deigning to glance down at our little world
as we scurry about in the shadows:
our light is a muted pallor in the glory-filled brightness
they get to live in
as they go about their normal day.

If I am dreaming of Greek gods,
perhaps I am not as firmly planted in the present as I thought.

But that is what this light does to me.

I am by a pond in Iowa.
Just over the hill are enough cornfields to feed a nation,
but this light—
merely by sitting in this light,
my mind strays from practical details
like what to eat for dinner
and how the family farm will survive.

In this light,
I start thinking of eternity and heavens
and of how, if only I could drink this light,
I could see eternity in every moment.

16 August 2013

life changes fast: thoughts on Joan Didion

It was the moment when I realized that I'd had my workout pants on backwards the entire time I'd been at the Y that I thought: Well, that's about enough for today.

I'd spent 31 minutes biking furiously on a stationary bicycle, although "furiously" is the wrong word for it. While I biked, I read Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, about her grief in the year after she lost her husband very suddenly to a heart attack, so I suppose you could say I was biking "grievously," a misused word here, but one that makes me smile with the word play of it.

And now inevitably, I'm thinking and writing in the voice of Joan Didion, one of those writers I admire so much that I've written about her before. She has this chopped but lyrical style, a way of conveying so much emotion in these scattered phrases {and really, isn't that what all writers are going for?}.

She writes:
Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
In time of trouble, I had been trained since childhood, read, learn, work it up, go to the literature. Information was control. Given that grief remained the most general of afflictions its literature seemed remarkably spare. There was the journal of CS Lewis kept after the death of his wife, A Grief Observed. There was the occasional passage in one or another novel [...]. There were, in classical ballets, the moments when one or another abandoned lover tries to find and resurrect one or another loved one, the blued light, the white tutus, the pas de deux with the loved one that foreshadows the final return to the dead: la danse des ombres, the dance of the shades. There were certain poems, in fact many poems. [...] The poems and the dances of the sades seemed the most exact to me.
It's in Joan Didion's repetition of phrases that I could get lost—that I did get lost, pedaling as if her grief depended on it, as if my grief depended on it. By the time I finished those minutes on the stationary bicycle, I had gone 8.21 miles, and my legs ached.

Read this book, and you will hear echoes throughout of that "Life changes fast" idea.

Read this book, and you will want to absorb grief literature right along with Joan Didion, sinking into poems by Auden and ee cummings, wrapping yourself in words by others who have found a way to write about something we all feel but can so rarely describe.

Read this book, and you will start to think in Joan Didion's voice {if you are lucky}, and so even when you have a realization about how your workout pants are on backwards, it will be in her clipped but soaring take on life.

You'll hear it in your head, and you'll laugh at how you summed up that moment. You'll think then: Thank the Lord for this ordinary moment, this ordinary reason to smile because life changes fast, life changes in the instant.

06 August 2013

don't ever forget the coffee

Don't you hate it when you go to the grocery store and walk out without the one thing you really needed?

This happened to me on Sunday. Yes, I got milk and cream, ground beef and frozen peas {for the tater tot casserole I was planning to make}, fruits and vegetables for snacks.

All those things are fine and dandy and are certainly making packing my lunch bag easier.

But I walked out of the store without coffee.

I didn't realize this until I was home again and had stepped into the laziness vortex that inevitably exists on summer Sunday afternoons—centralized, I think, on my balcony with the Sunday paper and/or a good book.

How could I possibly leave then? How would I ever make it back to the car and all the way to the store? It sounded more like a journey for Ulysses, the original guy or James Joyce's guy who lives through the longest day ever {at least it seems like the longest day ever to an English major trying to understand the book}.

I couldn't possibly make it, and then I remembered this other time that I ran out of coffee. That time, I used instant coffee and proclaimed it not "that bad."

As a caveat, I was also recovering from the plague the last time I had instant coffee: I was still coughing in that way that makes people edge away from you, and if you're coughing that much, how much should you trust your taste buds? They are covered in germs and mucus, and are most likely looking a bit harried after being assaulted so much by the loud hacking.

Not "that bad"?!? Yesterday, when I tried my instant coffee trick again, I had a sitcom worthy reaction. Where are the cameras when you need them? Obviously, not in my apartment at 4:30am. Thank heavens.

One sip and I spit it out in the sink. Not that bad?!?

I felt regret for the energy I had used heating up the water to make that sludge. Sorry, Earth, for adding to your demise by using electricity to make something that never should've been made in the first place. To make up for it, I will sit in the dark for the next three nights. {Oh, right, like that's going to happen. Did you hear that I just got the Internet? And with the Internet and my fancy TV, I can stream TV show like that quirky British series Outnumbered? Me, sit in the dark not consuming energy? Give me some time to get over the wonder that is the Internet right in your very own home.}

Let's assume the obvious here: My tastes have been refined over the last two years, and I now accept nothing but the best coffee. You know, the kind you can get for $5 at Trader Joe's.

Or let's assume that I make really poor judgment calls about taste when recovering from illness. Yeah, that one is probably a better assumption here.


In case you're concerned, I did buy coffee after work yesterday. And flowers. And cheese. And this quince paste to eat with the cheese. And ciabatta for the cheese and the quince paste. And olive oil.

And that, my friends, is why you always remember to buy the most important thing on your list when you're at the grocery store: because if you forget it, when you go back for it, you'll be suckered into buying many other things that you might need, as if you're trying to reassure that one item that you didn't really forget it in the first place. See, look at all these other things I bought, coffee! Don't be mad at me for forgetting about you! I wanted to give you more time to hang out on your shelf.

The fact that I attempted to reassure my coffee's emotions by buying more stuff should tell you that really, I should never go a day without coffee again. It might be the thing that's holding in my apparent urge to give emotions to inanimate objects.


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