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In my words, September 30 – October 6

What do you do when you don’t know what you’re doing? The first thing that comes to mind is to connect with something you’ve already done. The glass you drank from last night is dirty. Wash it. In the kitchen, clean and think. Is there garbage to take out? What was I doing yesterday? Are any of those tasks available to me now? What must I do tomorrow? Are there any preparations for that? So many questions drinking the first cup of coffee on Sunday morning. You’d think I’d just relax.

It is a gray day, October cool, perfect for staying in and relaxing, making some pancakes, scramble eggs, doing what you want to do: which ought to be nothing. The sky’s impassable. Cloudy. None of the southern horizon is visible, a blank slate. I am reading and rereading The Raven noticing as I get closer to the patterns of the words how they are static and repetitive, the distant gently compulsive tapping sounds of someone maybe going crazy, yet the poem remains fluid and organic, a stream splashing as freely now as it did then:

…..And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
…..Thrilled me, filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before
…..So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
…..“Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door
…..Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door.
…..This it is and nothing more.”

I wrote the third stanza from memory and had to watch myself not to edit out Poe. I wanted to use the word “stranger” for his word “visitor”, although visitor is much better here, rhyming with terror, before, door, and more. The Raven is one of my favorite poems although Edgar Allen Poe is not one of my favorite writers. Perhaps it was being American in the early 19th century fearing that as an Americans you weren’t as good as the Europeans yet, and you had to strain with a myriad of flowery words and elaborate sentences. That’s what “they” say. Who knows? James Fenimore Cooper is even worse. Poe had the imagination, but he didn’t have the words. I’ve bought Baudelaire’s translation of the short stories; they’re supposed to be better than Poe himself. One day soon I’m going to see if what they say is true, that Baudelaire has the imagination and the words.

Poe did teach me a valuable lesson, one I remember to this day. In 1974 I was in Peru traveling in the Andes with Monica, a young woman from Montevideo, who came from wealth, but was a real butterfly taking with her only what she could carry, and really less than that. We climbed to the ruins of an ancient Inca city. It was called Marcawasi, the Place of the Rocks. One house had a roof. It was the rainy season, mossy green, cold and full of fog and big black birds with big black wings that sat on and flew off of huge glistening stones that had the faces of Incas carved into them. If the birds were waiting for us to feed them, they were out of luck because we were out of food ourselves except for some dry fava beans we cracked between our teeth. An old woman climbed up everyday wrapped in a sheet of transparent plastic that kept off the rain; she’d milk her cow and bring us the milk with her hand already out waiting for the coins to drop, inhaling deeply at each clink; she’d bring us coca leaves. Two travelers who were also staying left one day barefooted to take a bath in a lake not far off, got lost in the clouds and the rocks and came back at dusk hallucinating with bloody feet. More travelers came and it got crowded; there was even a knife fight over a woman. I’d brought a copy of Poe’s stories in English that I’d found somewhere, perhaps in Lima, and read The Fall of the House of Usher through a hole in a bone Monica’d brought from a tomb understanding for the first time how important it is for the writer to enliven in the reader all the five senses.

Walt Whitman by Akram

My favorite 19th Century American authors are Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Mark Twain. You can read them again and again. Mark Twain was born in 1835, Emily in 1830, and Walt Whitman 1819, ten years after Poe. What a difference a decade makes. Perhaps Mark Twain was so angry (especially at God) that he had to be funny or he’d have gone nuts; he turned his anger into fun. Like God Mark Twain is Love. I think Walt Whitman was expansive as the growing country, so expansive that he took in the whole world eventually; and Emily went the other way, contracting, looking inward; both essential travelers who mapped out the regions of the new American (and by extension universal) soul. A little while ago I recited Walt’s A Noiseless Patient Spider. I hope it finds you well.

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

The Excellent Spider by Akram

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