July 29, 2007
Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.
— Richard Wilbur, b. 1921
“So how’s your summer going?” asked a friend at the supermarket yesterday. No one ever asks me how my autumn is going, or my winter or my spring. I’m not in the classroom anymore, and Lynn stays year round in her college town now, but the academic calendar still shapes my life. I still think of the nine months between Labor Day and Memorial Day as a “year,” and the other three months as some floating, unanchored time that belongs neither to the old year nor the new one.
So the answer to my friend’s question is, oh, the usual. I think I really did need this summer to rest and remember. The creative energy that began building in me last November and then exploded when the year turned drained me more than I thought, although it did last through June, long enough to produce a revision of the work that got me admitted to Bread Loaf and create a new, very short piece that I can present at my one five-minute slot in the Blue Parlor readings, the opportunity for us in the huddled masses of general contributors to show off our stuff.
And I did one minor Gallivant. The angel pictured above stands outside a house in Spinnerstown, Pennsylvania, across the street from the spot where I stopped for something to eat on my way to Warwick, New York to see Pacem in Terris, Frederick Franck’s home and sculpture garden. I wanted to do this apart from my trip to Vermont because my purpose was to see and study the original of his sculpture Seven Generations, a version of which stands in Harrisburg and is very dear to my heart.
The Franck site was well worth the trip. I learned that there are more than a dozen examples of Seven Generations in place worldwide, including another two in Pennsylvania. I resolved to see them all before I die, even the ones in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Argentina. That is some serious gallivanting.
I might catch the one in Connecticut on my way to Vermont. That’s in a little less than two weeks. My suitcase is in place in the living room, open on the floor in front of the fireplace. I’ve already put in my favorite t-shirts, fresh from the wash and folded neatly. The letter telling me whose workshop I’m in arrives probably tomorrow. This afternoon I spent some time Googling the faculty and teaching fellows I’m not familiar with, and my excitement for the trip began to build.
This is an old pattern, this restlessness as August approaches. I’m not ready to let go of the long hours of the angelic summer light that washes my kitchen nearly all day and kisses the table at which I read and write. But I am ready for something new, even though the future can be uncertain.
“Sunset is an angel weeping,” writes Bruce Cockburn, singing about fears of unfulfilled promise and wasted opportunities. “Sometimes the best map will not guide you, you can’t see what’s round the bend. Sometimes the road leads through dark places. Sometimes the darkness is your friend.”
I recently stood outside a place where I knew some darkness, a place I visited now and then during a time when there was little light in my life. I remembered it as a spooky place, something out of a landscape by Edgar Allen Poe, its windows like empty eyes. It’s got flowers in the front yard now, a child’s toy on the porch, curtains at the windows. I had to double check to be sure I had the right place. There’s a church across the street that I don’t remember from before, carved angels above the door. Undoubtedly they were there thirty-some years ago, making sure the darkness was my friend.
I can’t see, yet, what’s around the bend of this new August and this new “year.” But I’m excited about the journey.