Thursday, December 31, 2015

One horizon always hides another

I am speaking to my parents on Christmas day. It is unseasonably warm across much of the continent; storms brew over southern coasts.  My father wants my mother to tell me a story.  My mother has had a bad cold; such heat makes everyone sick my father says. And so my mother begins.  At the farmer's market she met an elderly African American woman.  They chewed over the weather, as everyone does, and how many were ill.  The woman told her how her grandmother used to say that a green winter brings many more stones to the graveyard. We hold this line as if it were a stone; we run it in and out of our mouths; we keep it, not as solace, but sooth, a telling insight.

One horizon always hides another--this too is not my line, but Kim Thuy's, from Ru. I like it because it reminds me of another, the title and key insight of a Kenneth Koch poem: One Train May Hide Another, a title inspired by a sign at a railroad crossing. Wise words from a fellow Ohioan at the cusp of the new year, when rain obscures our sense of winter, and passing events hide the days to come, the approaching trains we cannot yet see.  In his poem Koch advises watching, stillness, patience--good to remember on those days in between, when it sometimes feels as if nothing is happening:

It can be important
To have waited at least a moment to see what was already there.

The full poem below. 

One Train May Hide Another

Kenneth Koch, 1925 - 2002

(sign at a railroad crossing in Kenya)
In a poem, one line may hide another line,
As at a crossing, one train may hide another train.
That is, if you are waiting to cross
The tracks, wait to do it for one moment at
Least after the first train is gone. And so when you read
Wait until you have read the next line--
Then it is safe to go on reading.
In a family one sister may conceal another,
So, when you are courting, it’s best to have them all in view
Otherwise in coming to find one you may love another.
One father or one brother may hide the man,
If you are a woman, whom you have been waiting to love.
So always standing in front of something the other
As words stand in front of objects, feelings, and ideas.
One wish may hide another. And one person’s reputation may hide
The reputation of another. One dog may conceal another
On a lawn, so if you escape the first one you’re not necessarily safe;
One lilac may hide another and then a lot of lilacs and on the Appia
     Antica one tomb
May hide a number of other tombs. In love, one reproach may hide another,
One small complaint may hide a great one.
One injustice may hide another--one colonial may hide another,
One blaring red uniform another, and another, a whole column. One bath
     may hide another bath
As when, after bathing, one walks out into the rain.
One idea may hide another: Life is simple
Hide Life is incredibly complex, as in the prose of Gertrude Stein
One sentence hides another and is another as well. And in the laboratory
One invention may hide another invention,
One evening may hide another, one shadow, a nest of shadows.
One dark red, or one blue, or one purple--this is a painting
By someone after Matisse. One waits at the tracks until they pass,
These hidden doubles or, sometimes, likenesses. One identical twin
May hide the other. And there may be even more in there! The obstetrician
Gazes at the Valley of the Var. We used to live there, my wife and I, but
One life hid another life. And now she is gone and I am here.
A vivacious mother hides a gawky daughter. The daughter hides
Her own vivacious daughter in turn. They are in
A railway station and the daughter is holding a bag
Bigger than her mother’s bag and successfully hides it.
In offering to pick up the daughter’s bag one finds oneself confronted by
     the mother’s
And has to carry that one, too. So one hitchhiker
May deliberately hide another and one cup of coffee
Another, too, until one is over-excited. One love may hide another love
     or the same love
As when “I love you” suddenly rings false and one discovers
The better love lingering behind, as when “I’m full of doubts”
Hides “I’m certain about something and it is that”
And one dream may hide another as is well known, always, too. In the
     Garden of Eden
Adam and Eve may hide the real Adam and Eve.
Jerusalem may hide another Jerusalem.
When you come to something, stop to let it pass
So you can see what else is there. At home, no matter where,
Internal tracks pose dangers, too: one memory
Certainly hides another, that being what memory is all about,
The eternal reverse succession of contemplated entities. Reading 
    A Sentimental Journey look around
When you have finished, for Tristram Shandy, to see
If it is standing there, it should be, stronger
And more profound and theretofore hidden as Santa Maria Maggiore
May be hidden by similar churches inside Rome. One sidewalk
May hide another, as when you’re asleep there, and
One song hide another song; a pounding upstairs
Hide the beating of drums. One friend may hide another, you sit at the
     foot of a tree
With one and when you get up to leave there is another
Whom you’d have preferred to talk to all along. One teacher,
One doctor, one ecstasy, one illness, one woman, one man
May hide another. Pause to let the first one pass.
You think, Now it is safe to cross and you are hit by the next one. It 
     can be important
To have waited at least a moment to see what was already there.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Fallen peonies

Almost winter, and Elisabeth has cut the peonies and laid them to rest.

It is not yet 5 pm and already the light is falling, failing. Faint pinks score the clouds and then dissipate. The balustrade glows white against the looming dark. A skim of ice stills the surface of the pond all day, a brittle solid checking waves, while uphill, sheets flap right off the line in the wind.  The top has sheared right off the old lichen covered spruce that guards the edge of the drive, and white leaves lie scattered about the raspberry canes and all up and down the road. A stripping wind last night laid them all low. 

Late morning, ducks cackle at the back of the pond.  Marsh grasses are brown and flattened, the colour of the dog's back.  We walk out the road and into the wind, the coolness against our teeth bracing, the sea grey and rumpled under a ridged grey sky. Cotton topped grasses flair against the fruiting mosses, ditches and lowlands are damp with icy streams. Coyote scat litters the road; Enya races up lanes and down deer paths, but then hurries back again, nervy with scent and danger.