The Morning When I Must Start

NaBloPoMo 2007November 15, 2007

I wake in the dark and remember
it is the morning when I must start
by myself on the journey . . .
W.S. Merwin, b. 1927
                           American poet

The epigraph is from a poem entitled “Rain Travel.” I have it clipped, rather raggedly, from the issue of the New Yorker in which it was published. I scribbled “Spring 90” and the name of the magazine in the margin and then slipped it into a file that collected steadily, like leaves falling from trees, the poems and cartoons and other short pieces that seemed worth keeping. When I organized my poetry clips several months ago it surfaced, as if it had been waiting to mark this morning and this journey.

I lie listening to the black hour
before dawn and you are
still asleep beside me while
around us the trees full of night lean
hushed in their dream that bears
us up asleep and awake and then I hear
drops falling one by one into
the sightless leaves and I
do not know when they began but
all at once there is no sound but rain . . .

It was raining this morning when Ron and I started for the airport. At five after six, it was also still night. Under sunny skies and normal traffic we are maybe twenty minutes from the airport. I figured on getting to the baggage check desk at 6:30 and through security by 6:45 and have plenty of time to enjoy a bagel and cream cheese and the latest issue of Newsweek (about the pivotal year 1968) before I boarded my 8:00 flight.

But the rain was not exactly drops falling one by one but a rushing torrent. First we found that the ramp we take to the highway that passes the airport was closed. No problem! The drive around is short and simple. Unless you’re in the wrong lane, can’t get over, and have to get on an interstate going the wrong way. You don’t realize until you need to turn around that the next exit is a good three or four miles toward downtown. By now it was 6:30, but at least we were going in the right direction. Then, driving through rain that was cascading over the windshield in sheets, we missed the ramp to the airport connector road and found ourselves headed for Lancaster. By the time we wended through Middletown to the airport entrance, it was nearly ten of seven.

“Hi,” said the United ticket agent. “Are you here for the 7:30 flight to Chicago?”

“No,” I said, “the 8:00.”

“We don’t have an 8:00 flight,” was the answer that let me know I was probably in for the typical Maggy May Gallivant: wrinkles and digressions and diversions and complications that sometimes turn out to be more interesting than the original plan.

And this was but a wrinkle. I had a ticket for the flight number that was leaving at 7:30. The schedule had been changed, and now I do remember getting several communications back in August from the ticket agency and phone conversations with customer service reps who had varying levels of expertise with English. I wasn’t sure what the problem was, but I was in the middle of Bread Loaf. When Ron reported that a paper ticket had come via Fed-Ex, I figured whatever it was had been straightened out and I forgot about it.

But being expedited through the security checkpoint (that means I was escorted by an agent ahead of the thirty or so people standing in line) and being the last passenger seated raised my anxiety level. We had a difficult take-off through the rain and by touchdown in Chicago I was dizzy and disoriented and worried that I was headed for another bout of “airplane ear,” a condition that left me with tinnitus and vertigo for a week after my trip to Georgia.

I wish I could be like the people sitting around me who seem so nonchalant. On the flight from Chicago to Denver I saw two young teenagers who were doing what appeared to be math homework. Other people read thick books, watch movies on their computers, even write. I sit with inner turmoil, unable to concentrate, distracted by images and sounds, my body tense and uncomfortable. At least this time I remembered to bring a timepiece besides my cell phone, which I have to turn off. I was able to keep myself informed about just how much longer the ordeal would last.

In Denver I had some trouble finding the gate area for Big Sky Airlines and the flight that would take me to my final destination. It was in a basement area, away from the main area. It had no glitzy stores, no overpriced food stands, no piped in music. It was cold, and bare, dingy even, but it was quiet, and I was able to relax and get ready for the only part of this trip that matters — being in Wyoming. The plane that took me to Sheridan did resemble a Volkswagen bus with wings, but the weather was clear, giving me a nice view of the changing landscape below me.

At the Sheridan airport I collected my bags and was in turn collected by Mary Jane Edwards, the director of the program, along with another resident. It was going on five o’clock as we started out the thirty miles to Jentel. My body, of course, thought it was seven o’clock, although with only a few hours’ sleep the night before, little food, and anxiety all day, the time was not something I could actually relate to. 

I moved like a sleepwalker through a quick tour of the facility. I met the other residents, and we enjoyed a communal meal that the staff had prepared for us. It was dark when I unpacked my computer and some of my work materials and headed out to my studio (a space in a building separate from the residence).

I stood in the courtyard mesmerized by a sky ablaze with dancing stars, so many stars that the sky wasn’t black at all but shades of gray and silver with stars in clumps, stars in rows,  stars that made bright points of dazzle and stars that looked like a smudge of chalk, more stars than I have ever seen, more stars than I ever saw in Vermont, a more dazzling sky than I ever saw out here two years ago.

Perpetual Light. It’s what I came here to write about.

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