Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Merwin and the End of Autumn

It began as terribly as any ordeal by airline ever does, short of the airplane actually crashing; we arrived at our local airport after an hour's drive through the Ohio countryside to find that our first flight was delayed. When it was still delayed, we were moved to another gate. Once we finally got on the plane, sitting with our legs up on the carry-on bags that almost but not entirely fit under the seats in front of us, there was another delay as the ground crew figured out that the weight on our plane was not balanced, that they had no ballast to correct this, and that three passengers would have to get off. Finally they ousted some people and we got in the line to take off, arriving at a different airport twenty minutes before our next flight. But we would not be on it; no, we would still be standing in the aisle waiting for an airport employee to stroll over and push the button to extend the skyway. My daughter shouted helpfully toward the front "open the door and I'll jump!" but her voice went disregarded. Despite our no-doubt-entertaining sprint for the connecting gate on a different concourse, we missed our connection. We did arrive at our destination airport right before the rental car counter closed, and then proceeded to drive down strangely deserted highways under a vast, starry sky for a little more than an hour until we found our motel, looking as if it stood alone in the darkness of the middle of the prairie.

That was how I spent the first weekend after the high school marching band season with my daughter, visiting the college she's most seriously considering. Early decision applications are due next week, so the beginning of November marks the end of any more consideration; it's time to submit.

Our trip back from the college visit went as well as any airline adventure ever can--our flights were on time, and our connecting gate was right next door to the gate we came in, adjacent to a restroom and a small restaurant. When we got back to our local airport, we watched the carousel go around for less than half its circle before our checked bag appeared in front of us. We made it home with plenty of time to get to the W.S. Merwin reading at our local college.

He read--I think "sonorously" is the best word for it. Although I'd been looking forward to this event for months, it took on a dreamlike quality; I would hear the beginning of one of the poems I'd liked best from one of his many volumes and would drift off into contemplation of a word, a line, an image. I think I dreamed a sort of unity between three of his poems and the "too soon autumn" theme I have had going on here since the beginning of September. So I will present you with the three, as another way to mark the end of autumn.

I think of this one with our initial journey late into the prairie night:

Lights Out

The old grieving autumn goes on calling to its summer
the valley is calling to other valleys beyond the ridge
each star is roaring alone into darkness
there is not a sound in the whole night

Isn't that lovely personification? Of course I love the image of the old grieving autumn--it's me--here I am, sampling the bittersweet fruits of having raised a child to be self-sufficient enough to move away.

The next one seems to me to be related because it describes something of how I feel about the end of daylight savings time at the end of this particular autumn:

Long Afternoon Light

Small roads written in sleep in the foothills
how long ago and I believed you were lost
with the bronze then deepening in the light
and the shy moss turning to itself holding
its own brightness above the badger's path
while a single crow sailed west without a sound
we trust without giving it a thought
that we will always see it as we see it
once and that what we know is only
a moment of what is ours and will stay
we believe it as the moment slips away
as lengthening shadows merge in the valley
and a window kindles there like a first star
what we see again comes to us in secret

Yes, overlaid on this fall is the memory of my first fall away from home at college, and the lengthening shadow of Eleanor's first fall away from me. I am going to be only a window kindled in the darkness, a first star, a point to measure the length of her journey.

But there are so many pleasures in the company of an increasingly adult daughter, and in the conversation of the first person I ever had a hand in helping to grow to her full autumnal glory--it was for her that I learned to buy clothing in shades of gold and brown, the colors that suit her best. She is like

One of the Butterflies

The trouble with pleasure is the timing
it can overtake me without warning
and be gone before I know it is here
it can stand facing me unrecognized
while I am remembering somewhere else
in another age or someone not seen
for years and never to be seen again
in this world and it seems that I cherish
only now a joy I was not aware of
when it was here although it remains
out of reach and will not be caught or named
or called back and if I could make it stay
as I want to it would turn into pain

She will not be called back. If I could make her stay as I want to it would turn into pain. It's the pleasure of this moment, the beauty of the butterfly in flight, that, like the autumn, has reached a musical pitch that continues straining forward and forward towards what eventually turns into distance.


Harriet M. Welsch said...

That was lovely, Jeanne. I am already worrying about that point in our lives, which we seem to be racing toward at top speed. I was not too familiar with Merwin previously. I like the second poem especially.

Amanda said...

That sounds like an awfully eventful trip...

Gavin said...

W.S. Merwin sounds like a great remedy for that flight but, I must say, the "vast, starry sky" sounds wondrous. He is one of my favorite poets and I feel blessed having seen him read several times.

FreshHell said...

I do love living under a vast, starry sky. I like all these poems and can't choose a favorite. Maybe the second one? Or, no, the third.

Trapunto said...

Oof! And crash-landing at a poetry reading. It sounds like the ending scene of a novella or art film.

What an intense time of life for both of you.

I love the roaring stars and the moss above the badger's path.

kittiesx3 said...

I'm viewing where you are from the point in time of having already gone through it. So I like reading what you are thinking/feeling now about all that. It takes me back 10 years and I remember how my sons were then.

There's even more sweet to come. I do love this stage of motherhood a lot. They are full on adults, complete with wives and jobs and all the stuff that comes with those things. I loved them as children, and to my surprise, I love them even more as adults.

Keep posting this stuff :-) I like reading how it is for you.

Anonymous said...


I think I liked the first one best. But he's good -

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

I'm glad you had a good trip with your daughter. Air travel is never fun, but at least it went mostly smoothly.

One more prod - read The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman :)

Jeanne said...

Harriet, the second poem is one of his least abstract. I find you have to live with his poems for a bit before you grow to really love them. Hmm, there's a metaphor.

Amanda, eventful is one way to put it. This was my daughter's second trip, but my first. I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around the idea of leaving her there.

Gavin, the vast, starry sky really was wondrous--we were in Iowa. Wow, I didn't know Merwin read in public that much. Considering his age and how far you'll go to see a favorite, though, I can imagine you'd have had at least a few opportunities!

FreshHell, the third is my favorite.

Trapunto, sometimes it does feel like we're in a novella or something. My son likes to make little observations, like "if we were in a movie, what you just said would mean this..." and today I said "it DOES mean that." It's the cliched way I keep reacting.

Elizabeth, and you lived through it! And your sons still speak to you! Gives me hope.

ReadersGuide, you're a woman of fewer words than some, so it makes sense to me that you'd appreciate the first poem.

Kim, I now have it on both my library and my wish list! Really!

Jodie said...

Your trip sounds nightmarish, but it's one you'll always remember when your daughter is off at college. I like the third poem best, because it touchs on things I'm always struggling with like living in the moment and avoiding excessive reminiscing. But I like you description of your relationship with your daughter even better. Who would have guessed you'd produce a child who looks best in autumn colours, knowing how strongly you want to resist the season!

Jeanne said...

Jodie, I hadn't thought of the autumn colors that look best on her as an irony, but now that you point it out, yeah.
It actually took me a while to learn to shop for her--my eye goes first to anything in red, which I look great in... and which makes her look, quite literally, sick.
There is no irony in the fact that I look terrible in anything brown or gold, is there?!