Saturday, September 27, 2014

"What I Love Is Near at Hand"





Bill and I started a ritual a couple weeks back.  We go for a Friday after-work walk at Spring Grove Cemetery.  It's a truly beautiful place in the middle of neighborhoods and nothingness, and as you walk through its hilly, calm, planetary atmosphere you start to feel connected to a way of understanding things that's transformative without movement or strife or even thought.  All those gravestones, all that sunlight splashing off of leaves.  And the smell as you go from bright sunlit oxygen into a small ravine shadowed with old trees, musty, cool and secret, the sunshine falling through in short silvery intervals onto gravel and dirt.  It's a smell you remember but can't name (lost rivers, empty buckets, old water-hoses), like a drug you took as a teenager that was so pleasant you can never have that same experience ever again.  Lost time or maybe a dream of lost time is what it is, nostalgia stirred and then left still.

We don't talk that much as we walk. 

The place is expansive, falling off into hills, statues, little mock-cathedrals and marble vaults.  You don't want to talk.  Just walk.  Engraved names and dates, weather-beaten angel faces turning into morphined skulls.  It's not spooky though, just pleasantly exactly what it is.  It's the recent gorgeous weather too:  too clear to get into your head, the sky so fluorescent blue and cellophane yellow you can't really appreciate it without wincing.  Just walking, past all those graves, all those people's lives.  It doesn't feel creepy because it meanders close to what poetry is supposed to make you feel when it's done right.  The whole atmosphere slows down to elements you can worship, or at least ponder without having to understand.  You're there in the moment and everything is sparkling and kind of monumental but nothing is scary or complicated or rushed.  Just walking, like that, through the end of the afternoon.   The prehistoric boniness of the trees, the thickets surrounding the cut grass, the swampy waters stirred by fountains, rock-bridges and patches of dead weeds... 

I kept thinking about Theodore Roethke.  He truly is the one poet I think about the most.  His poems have a beveled but somehow amateurish sense of architecture that makes you feel like you're experiencing Shakespeare and Henry Darger simultaneously, that mix of "high" and "low," or whatever, pouring forth, sculpted and shorn into a constant death and rebirth.  His poems have their own equinox, their own cemeteries.  These are lines from The Far Field:

The weedy edge, alive with small snakes and bloodsuckers, --
I have come to a still, but not a deep center,
A point outside the glittering current;
My eyes stare at the bottom of a river,
At the irregular stones, iridescent sandgrains,
My mind moves in more than one place,
In a country half-land, half-water.

I am renewed by death, thought of my death,
The dry scent of a dying garden in September,
The wind fanning the ash of a low fire.
What I love is near at hand,
Always, in earth and air.